Friday, May 21, 2010

S.P.-cially for you

What a week! I've been so busy that I wrote the following on monday, but I've not had the time to upload it since then. Please read the following in black and white with an echo-y voice to create the impression of a flashback.

Remember what I said about lessons one plans oneself having the potential to blow up in one's face? Well, after I went to all the effort of renting a DVD with Japanese subtitles, my The Sound of Music lesson turned out to be an IED duct taped inside my mouth.

Firstly, I misjudged it a bit. Perhaps I forgot that not everyone has seen the film as many times as I have, and thus seeing one scene in isolation could be a bit confusing, particularly if your English is about as good as my Japanese. And the pine cone scene is actually quite confusing, since a) it refers back to something that happened previously in the film (the kids putting a frog in her pocket) and b) it involves irony - Maria is not in fact grateful for the aforementioned amphibian.

But these are minor issues that I feel I could have dealt with on the fly. The real problem was technical. After a lot of messing around to get the projector set up, for some reason Windows Media Player refused to show the DVD. Like, my desktop showed up on the screen nicely, but the window containing the movie (which was playing on my monitor) was just a black void. I had to somehow carry on, but in the absence of my primary teaching material, my mind resembled the offending window. I ended up getting the whole class of 28 to huddle around my laptop, at which point I knew I was on a hiding to nothing. Crushingly, this debacle was not only witnessed by the English teacher, but also by some mysterious teaching advisor we have at school this week [having spoken to her, it turns out she's a learning support teacher], and - I shit ye not - a party of important-looking guys in suits being shown around the school. I later found out that they were local politicians (so probably in charge of funding for education), and they could not have picked a worse moment to drop in on my class. One of them was taking photos! I felt like just committing seppuku there and then.

Having since spent some time actually testing my setup (time which, in my defence, I was not given before that travesty of a lesson), I found that VLC Media Player doesn't have this problem. Say what you like about its clunky interface, VLC is reliable. I should have just set it to be my default player a long time ago, and this would never have happened.

Ok, enough self-recrimination. There was yet more ouen in the afternoon, but since it's a glorious sunny day, it was out on the baseball field. (Field? Park? Pitch? Ground? Area? Zone? Quadrant? I'm British; I don't know.) It was beautiful out there, with a river on one side and the mountains rising steeply up on the other. So beautiful that I almost forgot my objections to the whole business.

Everyone got a good laugh at me applying suncream in preparation for standing outside for 45 minutes, but I stand by it. Once again, my photochromic lenses turned heads. "SP!" the kids all shrieked when the saw my shades. Now, this is the second time this has happened, so I knew what they were talking about on this occasion. The previous time was at graduation back in March, when we went outside to see off the departing third-years. I had no idea why they kept saying those two English letters to me, but a few minutes on Google that night informed me that SP means "security police", the elite bodyguards that protect high-ranking members of the Japanese government. I suppose that with a shaved head, dark glasses, a suit, and a broad-shouldered 181cm frame (big by Japanese standards) I must have looked like some kind of hired muscle. Actually, one of the English teachers commented that I looked like Agent Smith. Today, wearing as I was a pink checked shirt, I imagine I looked rather less menacing.

Ok, flashback over. You'll be glad to know that I got back on the Sound of Music horse, and I'd say that with the projector working, the lesson went middling-to-well.

On tuesday night I hosted my second poker night, and it was well attended, with nine players crowded into my small living room. I came ninth in the first game, but redeemed myself with runner-up position in the second, and to be honest I was unlucky not to win. I like hosting poker nights, as it gives me a reason to tidy up - a task which I can otherwise postpone indefinitely. Plus I usually end up with more snacks than I started with.

Wednesday is the night I customarily spend drinking with Marie, but this week was a special excursion. We went to Yonezawa to watch a three-piece jazz band. Niiice. Jazz may not be exactly my cup of koucha, but it was very enjoyable. On piano and accordion (and melodica, and toy piano) respectively were a father and son duo, but for me the drummer stole the show. Jazz drumming blows my mind - I suffer a kind of rhythmical meltdown if I try to clap along to music on the two and the four, so I am amazed by people who can produce a syncopated beat. This guy was a bit of a maverick, with a kit comprising bongos and a whole rack of novelty items (baby rattles, maracas, cowbells, etc) as well as the traditional components. He would frequently switch between various types of drumstick, including the null stick, i.e. his karate (empty hand). The highlight was a noodly ten-minute reworking of My favourite things.

Thursday was the day for automotive rigmarole, starting with a trip to Yamagata City to get my UK driving licence translated. This is a precursor to getting a Japanese licence, which I have to do before my one-year international permit expires. Thankfully, as I am a UK citizen this is a formality, with my eyesight being the only thing they will actually test. Americans are not so lucky, having to sit a driving test. In your face, Americans. After that I took my car to the garage because one of the tyres (I used the American spelling there first and had to correct myself - I was still in classroom mode) had a slow puncture. I love this long term rental deal - at the first sign of a problem I just take it there and get it fixed for free, no questions asked.

Tonight I have been invited for dinner with someone from the Rotary Club. He called me a couple of times and shamefully I didn't answer; the reason for this being that I have met many many Takahashis, and I got him confused with some random dude that I met in a karaoke bar once and had no real desire to speak to. But he tracked me down through the Board of Education. Apparently he wants me to give a 15 minute English lesson at the next Rotary meeting, which should be interesting.

Then on sunday it is the inter-school sports day that all this ouen practice is building up to. Fortunately I get monday off in lieu, which isn't as good as having monday off in Liu, but I'll take it. Also, on sunday I may be going for coffee with someone that one of my Japanese teachers wanted me to meet, telling me that she was 22, single, pretty, and fond of foreigners. For reasons I have previously elaborated on, I am not as excited about this as you might imagine.

So, that's my week. Everyone wants a piece of me!

Finally, in science news, my paper got published this week! If you are not reading this from a university with a subscription to the Journal of Experimental Biology, you won't be able to read any more than the abstract for six months. I imagine you're gutted.


  1. Fortunately for me I am reading this from a university witha subscription to the Journal of Experimental Biology. I haven't read it, but I like the look of Figures 11 and 12. Not sure I can work it into my thesis, but I'll add it to my EndNote library

  2. Well done, Finlay! I con't understand any of the maths :( On another note, I can now legally learn how to drive/drive in the presence of someone with a full license in the state of Texas... Scary times ahead for some people...

  3. Congrats on getting published!!

    And keep up the internationalization while you can!

    Miss your humour!

  4. Does being published mean you win the bet with Adrianna?

    As for your comment about poker, "and to be honest I was unlucky not to win", I doubt that.

  5. field. (Field? Park? Pitch? Ground? Area? Zone? Quadrant? I'm British; I don't know.)

    I think all of these suggestions are pretty much in the ball park!


  6. Danny: I thought Adrianna won that a long time ago. Or has she not bagged a first author yet? If I have won, does that mean we have to get married now, or was that something else?

    Dad: I asked an American. Apparently it is a 'ball park', but a 'baseball field' or 'baseball diamond'.