Friday, October 2, 2009

You can stand under my um-paella-ella-ella-eh

(Yes, I know my titular pun doesn't work if you speak Spanish properly.)

I've cracked. It's the last hour of my last day at school two of six, and I'm writing this blog post offline on my laptop. I should be ok as long as no English teachers look over my shoulder; as far as anyone else knows this is a lesson plan. I can always amplify the already florid style of my prose to obfuscate its meaning in order to augment my stealthiness. Anyway, I feel I've earned a bit of slackness after some sterling teaching efforts today.

I've been pretty busy this last week. Let me catch up. On Saturday I went to an open-air concert in the woods, in the most remote part of this fairly sparsely populated area of Japan. The drive there was road, bridge and mountain tunnel in approximately equal measure. Beautiful though. The event itself was a bit of a hippy-fest. After several hours of reggae DJ sets, we were treated to a three-piece band with the unorthodox configuration of drums, bongos, and didgeridoo. (Didgeridon't, more like. Am I right?) Those jokers were followed by another three-piece with two percussionists, but they had the good sense to employ a vocalist/keyboardist. Said singer was very much like a Japanese Bjork, i.e. the coolest possible combination of attributes. She also had a sweet gimmick where she used some Chinese cymbals – which I hadn't seen since primary school – held up to the mic and distorted beyond all recognition to produce an otherworldly electronic shriek. They were pretty good, and really knew how to work the crowd.

It was the kind of event that if held anywhere other than Japan, the air would have been thick with marijuana. In fact, for me there were no mind altering substances whatsoever on the cards, since I was driving back that night. I'm not used to being sober at events of this kind, and while it did severely reduce my propensity to dance, I still managed to have a reasonably good time in the face of crusties and mosquitoes.

The next day was a paella party in Yamagata City with the genial Anglophile archaeologist I've mentioned previously. You see, there is a tradition of holding imonikai (potato stew parties) by the banks of the river. These parties are a little like barbeques, but since this is Japan, the whole thing is taken a little more seriously than your average disposable-BBQ-and-Magners-in-the-Meadows affair. This particular party departed from the standard program a little because it was held by the owner of a tapas bar in the city, so it was Spanish style. But, since paella is made of rice and seafood, it's not too much of a leap for the Japanese palate.

This was an al fresco eating experience that I suspect even the most die-hard critic of barbecues (i.e. Graham) would have enjoyed. We had a professional cook, who in addition to making a paella about three feet in diameter (which you could actually shelter under in the rain, making my title pun all the more apt), cooked up all manner of tasty morsels of meat and fish. He even valiantly (if a little foolishly) attempted to smoke meat in a cardboard box: two boxes caught fire and had to be doused with beer before he gave up on the enterprise. And of course, the booze was flowing freely. We had a keg of beer, and more wine, shochu and sake than you could shake a stick at.

The paella party had a really nice atmosphere, because it was composed of the tapas bar's twenty or so most regular customers. As such, it was a heterogeneous bunch of people among whom no heirarchy existed, so the usual intricate dance of politeness (which I am only very dimly aware of) was not required.

On monday I got the PS3 and Rock Band 2, and since then pretty much every spare minute of my time has been spent either playing it or trying to get some aspect of it to work. Setting up a wireless router in Japanese is not easy, especially when it appears I have recklessly thrown out the piece of paper with my ISP login on it. I had to hack my own computer with some very unsavoury software to figure out my password, with my antivirus resisting my efforts all the way. Then, while my Japanese machine was quite happy to play my US game, the downloadable content I bought with my UK credit card wouldn't work with it. I've had to jump through a few dubiously legal hoops to get a US account set up, but that too has been accomplished.

Ok, I feel I'm losing the non-nerd portions of my audience.

I'm really getting into the teaching groove now. I'm being given more and more responsibility, including being asked to come up with activities at very little notice. Again, this is the sort of thing I could complain about if I were of a mind to grumble, but I actually enjoy the seat-of-the-pants excitement of the whole thing. I've made some mistakes, mainly by overestimating the abilities of the kids, but I've not had anything truly crash and burn, and I've learned something from everything that has gone wrong. Despite being quite hungover today (izakaya and karaoke with some other teachers last night), I really smacked it out of the park this morning with an activity for third grade that I pulled directly out of my arse about twenty minutes before the class. Of course, next week I'll be in a new place with new working relationships to build, but I feel that the confidence I've gained from this school will help me considerably.

Alright, time to go home now. I'm hosting a Rock Band party for all the local gaijin tonight, and I have some serious tidying to do before that can happen.


  1. What was the activity that you pulled out of your arse at the last minute? (I'm sure there's a kancho pun in there somewhere)

  2. I drew a river with four stepping stones on the board. Half of the class were Ron Weasley (by which I mean they were represented by a b/w printout of Rupert Grint stuck to the board with a magnet), and the other half were Hermione Granger. Their objective was to cross the river in opposite directions. The kids took it in turns to form sentences of the form "It is X for me to Y" to advance across the river. When the teams met they would do janken to decide the victor, the loser being sent back to their home bank. Janken is scissors-paper-stone, but it's ludicrously popular here - the kids janken each other all the time.

    Still no kancho...

  3. Why have you set up 2 different accounts on your PS3? I'm assuming it's you, unless the real J.Ackbar is actually trying to get in touch.