Monday, March 28, 2005

NJ: Culture Shock

Right now, it is the break between school years.

I am, of course, at school, in spite of the fact that I have absolutely no duties to perform. I am most definitely going through a period of culture shock right now.

The Japanese way of doing things is quite different from the American way I'm used to.

Lewis pointed out an informative article on TIME Magazine's site, here, on worker inefficiency. Here is an actual quote that I am not making up:
Japan's labor force is one of the most unproductive in the industrialized world. And not by a little. According to the Japan Productivity Center for Socio-Economic Development, a government-affiliated research center, Japanese laborers are 40% less efficient than Americans.
40% less efficient than AMERICANS! What's going on here?

Here's a great quote from Outpost Nine (currently mirrored here) on the subject of Oxymorons:
This is a nation that prides itself on it's almost suicidal work ethic. They work until late at night, then go in early in the morning. They work on Saturdays. Sometimes Sundays too. Even holidays. Despite all this working, they're not actually doing much. I can say that when the guy next to me has taken his 10th cigarette break...and it's only 11AM! Hey buddy, maybe if you laid off the menthols you could actually go home *on time*.

Sure, they are legitimately busy from time to time, but a great deal of time is spent making it look like they're busy, or on tea/coffee/cigarette breaks. Yet, if someone actually skipped the cig breaks and finished his work around 4-5PM and, oh my God!, left, they would be a slacker, an embarrassment to the company.
So, this is the culture I'm immersed in. Despite having no tasks that need performing, I'm required to be at work and to look busy, because that's the Japanese way of doing things. It's not that I don't want to be here at work (I don't mind it so much), or that I would definitely stay home if I could (although I would just do the same thing, study Japanese), it's that I HAVE TO be here, against all logic and reason.


Blood Type

I gave blood the other day, because I've been dying to know my blood type for about 15 years. I've actually had it typed twice, and didn't get the results either time.

There was quite a line when we went. A lot of the people seemed to be high-school kids trying to look tough. Why hasn't this caught on in America? "Want to look tough? Come here, and we'll BLEED ya!" What's tougher than that?

They gave me the option of donating 200ml or 400ml, and since they would type it either way, I opted for the smaller.

My friend pointed out that, since they gave me a 250ml carton of apple juice afterward, I was really coming out 50ml ahead.

Anyway, after a week or so had passed, they sent me a postcard with my blood test results. As it turns out, they do a lot of testing, and if I had donated 400ml, they would have done twice as many tests. They include the expected range for each value, so you know if something is wrong or not. They even keep track of what your previous results were, so you can easily see what has changed. It's like a monthly check-up, and it's free, and if I ever need blood I'll sure be glad that there are people like me out there donating. Next time, I'm donating 400ml (to get all the test results).

So, what type am I?
Obvious pun about my sunny disposition aside, they also gave my information about my cholesterol level (157) and lots of other stuff I couldn't identify. I did find a LOT of helpful information here which was very comforting. But, things like RBC, WBC, PLT, Hb, Ht, and MCV/MCH/MCHC are all part of the 400ml test. Next time...

It may be no big deal to you, but I've been wondering for nearly half my life what blood type I am. Especially here in Japan, where EVERYONE knows what blood type they are, and use it like we use astrological signs to make predictions of personality. My students didn't believe me when I told them I didn't know, and that most Americans don't know. Maybe I'm wrong, and all Americans except me already knew.

What type are YOU?

NJ: Life Is Short

Here's excerpts from a random survey from Chelle's journal.

What do you think happens after you after you die?

Do you believe in heaven?
Does Nutty Waffle Cone Ice Cream count?

Do you believe in hell?
No, but I've never been stuck in L.A. traffic before, either.

Do you think you will be judged after you die?
No, I'm going to plea bargain.

How many people would attend your funeral?
"Screw funeral....there's gonna be a party" -- Chelle

Would you rather that people cry or laugh at your funeral?
I just want to hear the lamentations of the women.

What's better? A shot in the head or downing pills?

What should be written on your tombstone?

Would you rather die childless or divorced?
I would rather not die in the first place.

Do you want to die in the morning, afternoon, or night?
At night. While with women. After having been with women all morning and afternoon.

If you had a million dollars to leave, who would you leave it to?
My clone.

What kind of flowers do you want at your funeral?
Something poisonous. I don't want to be dead alone. ;D

On your deathbed, which moment will you most remember?
That I left the stove on.

What's the most gruesome death you can imagine?
Falling from a great height. High enough to have time to ponder the situation.

How often do you think about death?
Almost never. Unless you mean the Terry Pratchett Discworld character who SPEAKS LIKE THIS and has a fondness for cats, whom I think of constantly. But then, that's Capital-D Death, innit?

Is fear of dying your number one fear?
Second, after those little white spiders. Man, I really hate those spiders.

Do you believe in reincarnation?
No, but I believe in Déjà Vu. The strip club at least.

Have you ever wished someone you loved were dead?
Never. If I had, they wouldn't really be someone I loved, now would they?

Do you consider life short or long?
"Life is short – but the years are long." -- Lazarus

Do you think you have a soul?
I had it removed when I was a kid (but I got ice cream afterward, which was cool).

Assisted suicide for a terminally ill person is:
Their prerogative.

If you were cremated, where would you like your ashes?
At a resurrection research center.

Would you choose to be immortal, if you could be?

Work Life

You know those times when you're working in a Japanese Junior High, and you're at your computer, and you look up, and EVERYONE IN THE ROOM is standing up respectfully for some visitor whose arrival you hadn't noticed? Everyone is standing and facing the visitor, or maybe bowing in unison, and you're typing away on your blog, completely unaware of how you're breaking the Wa of the room and offending said visitor.

I hate those times. I hate them even worse than the times I look up and everyone in the office is gone. Where did they go? I think I get too absorbed in whatever I'm doing.

What am I supposed to when everyone is standing up except me? Leap to my feet and pretend I was standing the whole time? Go back to what I was doing and ignore the visitor?

I usually leap to my feet, grab my coffee cup, and leave the room to get more coffee. Let them wonder. It's not as effective as kicking them in the groin and then giving them ice cream, but I have to work with the materials at hand.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Tales of Woe (Part II)

A sad, sad turn of events.

My awesome, favorite, beloved kouchou sensei for Itou Middle School is leaving. Ever since I came to Japan, he has made work fun and interesting, and it has been a joy to come to work in the morning.

I have very few regrets, but right now, the fact that I have not yet learned enough Japanese to have more conversations with him is high on my list. I thought there would be more time. Alas.

Moral for today: Don't take the people in your life for granted.

Thursday, March 24, 2005


I previously mentioned the RSS reader "Pluck". Well, in the process of converting from Internet Explorer to Firefox (which, by the way, all of you should do as well), I wanted to transfer my RSS feeds from Pluck to Sage.

Pluck, likely sensing the fact that I wouldn't need it anymore, first refused to export my RSS feeds, and then deleted them. Without warning.


Thursday, March 10, 2005

NJ: Ignorant People

Tell me if you've heard this one:
"According to the theory of aero-dynamics, and as can readily be proven by wind tunnel experiments, the Bumble Bee is unable to fly. This is because the size of its wings in relation to the size of its body makes flying impossible. But the Bumble Bee, being unacquainted with these scientific truths, goes ahead and flies anyway and gathers a little honey every day."
I've heard it far, far too often.

Of COURSE a bumblebee can fly. We've SEEN bumblebees fly. You have to really REALLY wonder about the reasoning capability of someone who believes this, who repeats it.

There are lots of stories of the origin of this urban myth. Here's one from 'Ask Dr. Galapagos':
"Once upon a time some scientists and engineers or college professors (different versions have different names and specialties) were at a dinner party. The subject of bee flight came up and the aerodynamic engineer that just happened to be present decided to do a quick calculation on bee aerodymics. He used a conventional stiff airfoil-shaped wing, with steady state, or partially steady state, air flow analysis techniques, and lo and behold, the calculations did not work for the bee. Someone jokingly said, "I guess that proves bees can't fly", and they all had a good laugh. But, of course, they all knew it just proved that bee flight is too complicated to analyse with conventional airplane aerodynamic methods."
One of my favorite quotes from that same page is: "Mysteries don't prove science is bunk. They are the reason for science."

There are several other pages that also debunk this legend:Yet it seems to me that this annoying falsehood will continue to spread. I got 143,000 hits on the Google search "impossible bee fly" How many of those recount the myth, and how many debunk it?

Sigh. What a world we live in.

The Banshees of Democracy

If you want to know what political campaigns are like here in Japan (and what we have to put up with), go to Lewis' page. He sums it up pretty nicely. In case you miss it, he links to another page that helps explain the policy.

To The Pain!

The graduation ceremonies are next week, so we've been practicing this week. However, there aren't chairs for the teachers to sit in. So we get to stand for two hours.

I am beginning to think that there is something seriously wrong with my back. I'm in so much pain right now, it's really unbelievable. Even I don't believe it, I think my back is lying to me. I think it just wants attention.

Recently, I started sleeping on my back. Previously, I have always slept on my side, curled up in the fetal position, sobbing softly (I had a fun childhood). Thinking (probably erroneously) that sleeping on my back might help my posture, I made the switch.

Digression: the pain is such that I'm having trouble forming thoughts to type. I've taken some Advil (I can't remember the last time I had to take a painkiller), but it hasn't' kicked in yet. In fact, I don't think I can finish this post.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Mount St. Helens Shoots Steam, Ash

"I live less than 50 miles from St Helens, and I heard about this on Slashdot first."

Check out photo-goodness here, here, and here.

NJ: Fun Link for 20050309
Here's a quote:
Our office is really modern and we've got nice computers and stuff. If you ever saw it, you'd say "Wow, cool office. These guys are legit."

NJ: Supertaster

Things I DO NOT LIKE to eat:
  • Fish
  • Tomatoes (tomato sauce is OK)
  • Fatty meats (lean cuts are OK)
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Spinach
  • Black coffee and tea (I need milk and sugar)
  • Dry wines
  • Tonic water
Things I CAN eat, but wouldn't buy:
  • Olives
  • Beer
What do these things have in common? They're all foods that supertasters have problems with. That's right, I'm a supertaster. Deal with it, mortal.

Actually, there's nothing 'super' about it. I have a higher-density of fungiform papillae on my tongue, which makes me more sensitive to certain chemicals, like 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP). This bitter chemical is found in green vegetables. And it's not exactly uncommon; in the US population, about 25% are supertasters, 50% are normal, and 25% are nontasters (the other end of the spectrum). Females and Caucasians are more likely to be supertasters than Males and Asians, respectively.

But it's not just PROP. Flavonoids (found in many fruits and vegetables) are likewise extremely bitter. The problem is that flavonoids are healthy antioxidant chemicals, and avoiding them increases my likelihood of DIEING FROM CANCER. :-(

There are also some things that other supertasters might avoid, that I enjoy.

Things I LIKE to eat:
  • Dark chocolate
  • Grapefruit
  • Cheese
So, it varies. And basically, the world says "Suck it up, and deal." In addition to the people that refuse to believe in supertasters, classifying them simply as 'picky eaters', there are people that know better and just don't care. Danielle Reed, PhD, of Philadelphia's Monell Chemical Senses Center, says there's no excuse for avoiding vegetables.
"After all look at how many bitter-sensitive people learn to love coffee and gin and tonics."
Sigh. If only it were that simple. I've been eating fish and other seafood nearly every weekday since school began September 1st last year, and I STILL can't finish a piece of fish. And I REALLY TRY! Sigh.

At least the sensitivity declines as one ages, not to mention the fact that I have reduced sensitivity in the first place due to an ear infection when I was young (ear infections damage your taste nerves). Is it possible I got the ear infection from stuffing peas in my ears, because I couldn't eat them? (Answer: no, those incidents occurred years apart, but still...the potential irony...)

So, do you think you could be a supertaster?

Take this highly unscientific test, or if you're really curious, this scientific one.

I Was Robbed!

I am expecting a registered letter, so yesterday I went home briefly after work was officially over. At 4:30pm, the letter had not arrived, and there were two kerosene containers in front of my house. One full, one empty.

I went back to work, because I didn't need to be at home (and at work, there's COFFEE, and I can study Japanese and drink coffee and play go^W^W^W). Eventually, I finished everything for the day (except studying Japanese, that's never finished), and around 7:30pm I went home.

At 7:30pm, the letter had not arrived, and there was ONE kerosene container in front of my house. Empty.

I had been robbed! IN JAPAN! How is this possible?

First of all, you couldn't see the kerosene containers from the road. Or anywhere else, you basically had to be standing next to them to see them. So, why did the thief come up to the door in the first place? And what prompted them to then steal?

Second, I leave my front light on (so when I come home at 8pm I can unlock the door). So the thief took the kerosene in plain view. I'd ask my neighbors if they saw anything, but I don't speak enough Japanese yet (hence, the never-ending studying).

Third, a full container of kerosene isn't exactly light. I can't quite imagine anyone lugging it down the road for any length. So who drives up to a house, loads the kerosene in their car, and drives away?

Fourth, a full container of kerosene isn't exactly expensive. At ¥49 a liter, and 18 liters a container, were only talking about $8.35 (plus the cost of the container, so let's make it a round $10). If you're going to risk getting caught stealing, why something so small?

Anyway, even though I don't hope to recover the kerosene, I reported the incident to the local police, so at least they know what's going on in their neighborhood. That was a fun experience, especially when the police described a current fad in Japan: stealing kerosene and using it to LIGHT THE BUILDING ON FIRE. Maybe if I hadn't returned home when I did... So it could always be worse. I am greatly indebted to the English teacher from school that happened to be working even later than I was that accompanied me.

What really bothers me about this landlord. (WHAT?)

I have two bikes now, and a sudden fear of them being stolen. I'd like to store them in the garage, but the landlord has his own stuff in there, and there's barely enough room for my tiny tiny car.

Also, the landlord sometimes goes into the house. Sure, he owns the house, but still. When he leaves, he often fails to secure the door. He may lock the door, but leave it partially open (so what's the point of that?). He also turns off the outside light. Note that I've repeatedly asked him to not do this. Alas.

I think the landlord comes in to the house ostensibly to get something of this. After all, every closet and cupboard is filled with his stuff. With my newly disillusioned view of the relative safety of Japan, I think I must demand that the landlord:
  1. Remove his belongings from the house and garage.
  2. STOP coming into the house while no one is there!
Sigh. So that's how my day was yesterday. How about you?

Monday, March 07, 2005

Sad, part Deux

My classes were canceled again today. Sort of. Well, yes, they were, but I got to do introductory lessons with elementary school students (I should say GENKI elementary students). They were a lot of fun. We did the Head-Shoulders-Knees-Toes sort-of-Simon-Says game. In the third class, I wasn't getting anyone to sit down (they were too good). Finally, I said "Touch your eye" and grabbed my ears, and EVERYONE grabbed their ears. The entire class. No one got it right. It was great. :-D

More sadness on the financial front. I still haven't received confirmation that my transfer account is open. I sent them an e-mail and they told me that they sent the confirmation registered mail yesterday, so it should be any time now. I'm still severely worried. I couldn't cut this one any closer if I tried.

Sunday, March 06, 2005


All of my classes were cancelled today (well, some weren't cancelled, they were moved to Wednesday, making that day longer).

Although it gives me more time to study Japanese (and fiddle with the blog), I'm kind of sad. None of my students are getting to see my new Italian silk tie with mice exchanging presents on it.


Because I Can

I updated the quote navigation again. Now you can go directly to the first or last quote, or jump to a specific quote. This is mostly for my benefit (for testing new quotes when I add them, and in general for learning Javascript to implement it).

Sight Unseen

I shouldn't be allowed unfettered access to my money. Here's why:


I saw a message on the fjet list: 18-speed mountain bike for sale, $50. Now, I already have a bike, but it's a 1-speed, and my visiting school is up a hill, so I would like to have lower gears so I could ride my bike to school (and lose some weight).

I asked the poster what kind of bike (so I could look up reviews of it). He said:
The mountain bike is blue, w/ front shocks and a shock absorber in
the frame. The gear shifts are in the handgrips and the handle bar ends have openings at the ends for extensions. I bought it at COPA. I don't know the name and I removed all the stickers. It is your run of the mill department store mountain bike. This bike isn't spectacular, which is why it's going cheap. But it is reliable, which is why it isn't going for free.
I asked about the size. See, another problem with my existing bike is that it's a bit too small for me. I would prefer a full-size, adult-size bike, so my knees aren't banging against my chest when I ride. He said:
It is an adult sized frame. I'm 6 feet tall and it's fine for me. I think it's a 21 inch frame.
So far, so good. I don't know how big a 21 inch frame is, but I'm 6 feet tall, too, so if it works for him, it should work for me. I told him I'd take it.

We meet up in Fukui city (neutral ground), he gives me the bike (and a bike pump, and a bike lock, and oil, and a light), and I pay him. He asks if I want to ride it around first, but I trust him, so I say, no, it's OK. Besides, I'm in a hurry. He points out that the tires should be replaced. This hadn't been mentioned in the e-mails, but it's kind of too late now (I'm thinking) to change my mind, even though the value of a $50 bike has just dropped considerably, since for not much more I could buy a NEW generic-mall-bike with NEW tires anyway. Sigh.

So I take it home, and pull it out, and....what? It looks kind of small. I'm sure it's my imagination though, since he says it was fine for him. Plus, he had lowered the seat to fit it in my tiny tiny car, so maybe that's it. I raise the seat. I raise it some more. I raise it until it comes off the bike. Hmm. I put it back on, as high as it can go. I then put my old (too-small) bike next to my newer (works-fine-for-me-and-I'm-6-feet-tall) bike.

My old bike, of course, is bigger.


So, I try to take it for a ride, and that's when I notice how rusty it is. Not so much that I fear it will fall apart (yet), but a significant, noticeable amount of rust. Clearly, this bike was not kept under cover from the weather. Anyway. I ride it around for a while, and that's when I notice that it sometimes has trouble shifting. Perhaps that's due to my inexperience with this particular shifting mechanism. Perhaps.

I rode it to work today (I paid for it, I'm going to USE it!). My knees bang on my chest. It's much too small. And the handlebars are misaligned (to go straight, they have to be at a slight angle), but that's fixable. I hope. If I can get a seat that goes higher, so my knees don't bang against my chest, it'll be OK. And new tires of course. And maybe a new frame. And perhaps new gears, or whatever the problem with shifting is. Other than that, everything is good. Such a bargain!



At almost the same time, I saw another ad for Japanese books, with the description:
All these books have been well looked after and will help with your study.
Since I'm always on the lookout for good Japanese books, especially Kanji books (and the two in this lot were marked 'Good' and 'Great'), and because these were being sold much below the original cost, I snatched them up right away.

Well. I get them home, excited about my new acquisitions, and my native-Japanese friend immediately points out the obvious flaw, as I'm still removing the books from the bag.
"Those books are too old."
What do you mean, too old? I look closer at the books. Some are 10 years old. Some are older. Has the Japanese language changed so much in the past 10 years? Of course, is the answer. But...the Kanji, certainly that is the same? Nope, there are a bunch of new Name Kanji.

Sigh. It's been a rough couple of days.

Final financial note: I still haven't received confirmation of my transfer account (which I foolishly assumed might come by Friday or Saturday). So, I still can't send money home to pay my credit card and student loan bills. And the first due date is TOMORROW. So, I'm starting to sweat a little.

(fingers crossed)

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Quotable Quotes

I've updated the way the quotes work on the sidebar. Now you can browse through them, or get a new random one, without refreshing the entire page. If this doesn't work for you, let me know. I may also add a lot more quotes in the near future, depending on how much free time I have (I have a quotes file that only needs some minor editing...), but that will dilute the frequency of the current quotes (my favorites). Choices...

Hand Finger Puppet

Speaking of "Dancing is Forbidden", does anyone besides me remember the short-run Adult Swim commercial where they played the Aqua Teen Hunger Force ending theme song and showed the "lyrics"? A lot of people who hadn't watched the pilot thought that the words were "D***, finger puppet", but they couldn't say 'd***' (the commercial played in the afternoon), so the commercial said "Hand, finger puppet".

I thought that was one of the funniest commercials, but thinking back I can't remember if they just put the wrong words up, or if they actually re-recorded the song with the wrong words, and played that in the commercial. I had thought that they re-recorded the song, which was what made it so funny (so much effort for a joke that almost no one would get), but now I'm not so sure. So far, I haven't been able to find anyone who has a copy of it, so it will remain a mystery, forever gnawing at the back of my mind, until I inevitably go mad. So.

Dancing Is Forbidden

Well, I spoke too soon.

The Kocho-Sensei saw me playing Go at school (I was actually studying Go problems, and not playing the game, but he didn't know that). Playing Go is now officially forbidden. If I have free time, he says, I should be studying the Japanese language (as opposed to the Japanese culture, which is what I was doing with Go).

Sigh. I wonder if I can get away with playing LRNJ or Knuckles? Both are games for learning Japanese Kanji. Hmm. Where's the line?

Money Woes

My current BofA checking account has $243.47 in it.

This month's minimum payments amount to $479.77.

I am $236.30 short.

This is....bad.

Right now, I'm waiting impatiently for my transfer account to open, so I can send money home. Very very hopefully, it will open in a few days. Then I can relax.

Until that time...

Testing My Patience

It's test-week at school, and so far I haven't had any classes. I might have classes on Thursday or Friday; I'll find out tomorrow.

I'm not looking at this as a mind-numbingly boring obstacle, I'm looking at this as an opportunity to study Japanese.

And by 'study Japanese' I mean 'play Igo and read Naruto manga'.

Speaking of Go, it's possibly the best strategy board-game in existence. It's most certainly the oldest. I was a long-time fan of Chess (still am) before I learned Go, and although I still like Chess, Go is much, much better (anyone who says otherwise hasn't done their research). The rules are simple, but the strategy is hard.

Everyone has a rank in Go. Currently, I fluctuate between 17-kyu and 8-kyu (lower is better). That's a big flux; sometimes I'm on the ball, and sometimes I just can't get my head around the game. My goal is to rank as 1-dan (higher is better), the lowest of the non-beginner levels.

Sigh. If only there were an English-language Go school in my town...

Good News

This past weekend, instead of sleeping all day, or planning to clean the house and ending up sleeping all day, or planning to study Japanese and ending up sleeping all day, or hanging out with my girlfriend (whom had fled to another country, but I'll track her down again), I worked. This isn't that unusual; I've worked weekends before. This time, though, I worked at a different school. Takefu Higashi Senior High School. The International Course has English camps every now and again, and I finally got to go to one. It was Fantastic! I loved it. Most of the students had very high (compared to my Junior High students anyway) English skills. It was a lot of fun.

But. They didn't tell us they would be filming everything. It was very distracting to try to talk to your group with a camera stuck in your face. They didn't ask for permission, or even mention it at any time (not even while we were there. It was like 'Mystery of the Invisible Cameramen').

Although, I did end up on the news. The Kyoto-Sensei told me today that I had been on the news on Saturday. Unfortunately, of course, no one recorded it (Tivo pretty much doesn't exist here). Not that I would have wanted them to. I had an acne outbreak last week; I'd hate to think that that image of me would be preserved for all time.