Thursday 28 February 2013

A Week Into Work

Last Saturday the building I was working in was closed for the day for maintenance.  I was told it happens once a year.  Seeing as no-one had to work on the Saturday, some of the other teachers had organised to go out on the Friday night and enjoy themselves.  The frist place we went to was an izakaya, which is like a casual dining bar, or a Japanese style Tapas bar.  It was really good to get to know them, about half of the teachers were there and we had a few drinks and some food.

After we finished there, we went to a karaoke bar and the fun and games really began.  For those who haven't sampled Karaoke Japanese style, it is a lot more fun than some of the versions we may otherwise be used to.  There is no standing up in front of a crowd of people you don't know.  In Japan, your group gets it's own little karaoke room and the only people who are watching and listening are your friends, so it is always a lot of fun!  One of the songs that I sung was Smooth by Santana and Rob Thomas.  The karaoke machine ranked my effort the top ranked version of that song that had been sung there.  I put it down to the fact that it is not a well known song in Japan and no-one else had sung it!  But it was a lot of fun.

A friend back in Australia has asked me to talk a little about how English as a second language is taught to adults, especially beginners.  Here in Japan, school students have 6 years of English study through high school, but generally that education consists of reading, writing and grammar, no speaking. That is starting to change these days, however.So, when teaching to a beginner, they can usually recognise some of the written words they encounter in a text book.  In a beginner lesson, there are a lot of pictures and gestures used, an lot of repeating what the teacher says, and if they don't know how to respond to a question, writing the answer down and memorising it.  A lot of repeating, reading out loud and very short sentences.  Gradually two short sentences are put together to make a longer sentence.  Slowly you encourage your student to start asking questions rather than just responding to them.  At this stage, they are usually at an intermediate level and before too long, they are initiating conversations and using follow-up questions to keep a conversation going.  

I had a student last week who was at a low intermediate level and he had a company meeting and party afterwards the next day.  There were going to be some English speaking people there from overseas and he wanted me to give him some pointers on how to initiate a conversation.  He was quite good at asking further questions, just found the initiating bit hard so I taught him 3 questions: "Where are you from?", "Is this your first visit to Japan?" and for someone he had met previously: "Long time no see.  What have you been up to?".  We practiced these quite a bit with me taking on the character of the overseas colleague, changing the country that I was from each time to elicit different follow-up questions from him, and he was great!  I haven't  seen him since to find out how he went, but I think he would have been fine.

When a student then gets to a more advanced level, the lessons then take on more of a discussion style, still with a target language to the lesson, but the main aim at this stage is to introduce more natural language, idioms and higher level vocabulary.  At a really high level, when they are almost like a native speaker, the only real difference at that stage is the number of idioms and slang that is used.  Primarily students at this level are there to take lessons simply to maintain their high ability.  These can actually be some of the more difficult lessons to teach, because at this stage, the student probably knows some vocabulary that the teacher doesn't especially if the vocab is very specific to the industry the student works in.  The good thing is that they usually realise this and are not too concerned if you have a blank look on your face when they use one of those words!!

I hope that helps understand a little of what happens in our classroms.  Of course, if anyone has any more questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section, or email me.

On Monday at about 5pm, I was at work and it was a little quiet, only one of the teachers had a lesson.  Suddenly the building's PA/intercom blared to life with a loud, high pitched whistle and a recorded voice announced something in Japanese, then in English, I heard: "Please brace yourself.  A big earthquake will arrive in 5 seconds"!!  At this point, the only student who was in the school went to dive under the desk!  The voice then announced something else in Japanese followed by the translation in English: "Please brace yourself.  An earthquake is arriving now", and exactly as she said the word now, I felt the floor starting to shake.  Now, we are in the second basement of our building so it didn't feel too bad, but it was a 6.2 magnitude earthquake based about 120 km north of Japan.  One of my students later that night whose office is higher in our building said the building was swaying noticeably.  But then, they are designed to do that to limit any damage.  So after the shock of hearing the warning it turned out to be not too bad, and last I heard, there had been no damage or injuries closer to the area it originated, which is good.

Today I had a day off and thought I would go exploring.  I headed off in the opposite direction to my train station as I had heard that there was a bicycle recycling place nearby.  A big problem in Japan is from people who leave bicycles at train stations.  After a while, the local government will put a sticker on the bike telling the owner that if they don't retrieve their bike, it will be removed.  If it is still there after a set period of time, they are removed and taken away to be crushed.  This place that I had heard about has a deal with some of the local governments whereby they will take some of the bikes that are in better condition, fix them up and sell them to the public at pretty cheap prices.  So I went off in search of the "Suginami Bike Recycling Centre".  I found it and a lovely man explained to me that they are only open for sales a few days a month and those days had already passed for February but told me when they were open for March.  He also explained that there are no mountain bikes or sports bikes, just standard shopping bikes, so I will keep looking as I am more interested in a mountain bike I think, to get around on.  Nearby there was a small elementary/primary school.  There was a very interesting statue in front of the school:

It looks like a statue of a child hiding under something with it's eye poked out!  You can see the blood running down the side of it's face.  I'm sure there is a perfectly logical reason for this.

I kept on walking though and soon came to a large highway and started walking along it as one of my housemates had told me that there was a 24 hour supermarket somewhere in the area.  Pretty soon I saw this bank of vending machines.  There's no such thing as too many choices.  Yes, Japan really is the King of vending machines:  

A popular way to deliver food in Japan is by little 3 wheeler motorbikes like this:

You might just be able to see under the bike, there is a kind of pivot, so as the bike is turning a corner, the whole bike except for the rear wheels lean into the corner.  The container that the food is in, usually swings independently from the bike so that the food doesn't go flying every time a corner is taken!  These particular deliver bikes were for a sushi restaurant.

A little further on I came across a Mcdonald's  restaurant and saw that their current special burger was this:

You might just be able to make out at the top, the name of the burger, the Idaho Burger, so thinking of my good friend from Boise Idaho, land of the blue football field, I went inside and got one.

Brian my friend, this one's for you!  I sat down at my table with a view, had my burger and watched the world go by.

I started making my way back home and as I was about to turn away from the highway and back to my place I saw something interesting across the highway so I made my way to the other side and found myself in another one of those "contrast" moments I talked about a couple of posts ago.  Leading away from the highway, the busy, modern highway was an old school Japanese shopping street.

So I went for a wander.  So many little small interesting shops with the owners constantly trying to encourage shoppers to enter their shops by describing  their shops, and their goods for sale in them.  I could have wandered around for hours and not gotten bored.  Eventually though, I turned around and made my way back home.  I decided to go along the river side instead of the road and as I looked over the walkway into the waters of the river below, saw this:

Yes, those are fish, huge fish!  The white things are ducks, that is how big these fish were!  Don't know that I would want to cook them up for dinner though, the water was a bit green.

Thanks again for reading.  I hope you are enjoying my stories.  Speak to you again soon.

Friday 15 February 2013

Settling In

So the last few days have involved settling in to my new surroundings.  I went to the local government office to register my address with them and in the process, it became even more obvious how much Japanese I have lost since I last lived here.  I felt sorry for the poor lady who had to deal with me as I couldn't understand very much at all of what she was saying!  She ended up calling a co-worker who translated to me what the other lady was wanting to know from me.  As a result, the whole process took twice as long as what it would normally have, but we got there in the end!

The following day I went to the bank to open an account with them.  All of the staff there were really friendly, helpful and spoke great English.  This process was finished very quickly.  I had chosen this bank as all of their services are in both Japanese and English, including their online banking site!  Very convenient.

People often ask me what do i like about Japan.  One of my common answers is that Japan is a country of contrasts.  The example I often give is that you can be in the middle of Tokyo, one of the busiest and most populous cities in the world, then jump on a train, travel for an hour and be in a remote village where some people may not have seen, let alone met a foreigner.  I stumbled across another incredible example today of these contrasts that I love.  I did a trial run to get to my company's offices today as I have to be there to sign my contract tomorrow and I wanted to know how long it would take to get there and where exactly to go.  I found the place fine, and was just about to head back to the train station when I spotted an innocent looking group of trees that required a little more investigation.  Bearing in mind, the area that I was in looked like this:

Typical of downtown Tokyo.  I walked across the road to where the trees were and saw this:

It appeared to be the gateway to a temple!  In my previous post, I showed some photos of a temple near my house that was "guarded" by a couple of statues of dogs.  Well, this one was guarded by cats, both living and not!

I walked in and was amazed at the beauty of the place, and the peaceful, serene atmosphere of a temple, surrounded by greenery.

Absolutely incredible!  I was walking around stunned.  To find a place like this in the middle of Tokyo is just amazing, and really sums up the contrasts that I talk about.

However, I then stumbled upon something that reminded me of where I really was.....

Oh well, I guess the temple needs an income stream too right?  So I sat down with a bottle of coke zero, and just soaked up the atmosphere and became one with my surroundings.

Off to the office tomorrow, and then training starts and will continue for 3 days after which, work starts!

Speak to you soon.

Monday 11 February 2013

Sad farewells and new beginnings

Work at the Port Lincoln Hospital finished last Friday by which stage I had pretty much packed everything and was ready to leave to drive to Adelaide the next day.  It was sad to be leaving the hospital as I had really enjoyed working there.  A great group of people to be working with, especially Jenny, Danielle and Cheryl (I'll always be a laundry lady at heart!)

Last Wednesday signaled my last night in Australia and so had some farewell drinks with friends at the Coopers Alehouse in Adelaide. The Alehouse has always been my favourite pub in Adelaide so it was appropriate that it was the location for drinks.  I have to say thanks to everyone who turned up, it was really humbling to see so many people come to say goodbye.

I had a nice moment at the airport with my brother Matthew.  20 years ago on my 21st birthday, my father gave me the "keys to the house", which means that you are welcome to return anytime.  In Port Lincoln I had been living with Matthew and so I had a set of house keys.  I went to return them to him at the airport and he simply told me to keep them for anytime that I returned.  That moment of handing over the keys came full circle!  At the airport I had my 2 closest friends (Warren and Daz) and my brother there to say goodbye and I must admit that I did shed a quiet tear as I walked away and left them.  I am absolutely blessed to have such a great group of friends and family all of who are very special to me, and to be saying goodbye is such a difficult thing to do.  In the year 2000 when I first moved to Japan, I was only intending to stay for 1 year, so that farewell was not too bad.  This time, I am looking at this as a long term move so it is so much harder to say goodbye.  My family and friends do realise that moving back to Japan is something that was probably inevitable, so everyone has been supportive of this decision.

So my flight went through Kuala Lumpur where I had about 5 hours wait for my connecting flight. The connecting flight was delayed by an hour which caused some problems when I landed in Tokyo.  I had organised to meet my landlord at 11am to move into my new house, but because of the delay I was late arriving and missed him.  A few phone calls later and I met up with him and was taken to my new home.  My bedroom has a couple of big windows that let a lot of light in, which is great.  One of the windows opens out onto a small bamboo "forest" which is fantastic!  My very own little patch of nature in the middle of Tokyo!

A couple of things happened to me on this first day in Tokyo that so truly represent what I love about Japanese people.  When I arrived at the airport (which consists of 2 terminals), I had to make my way by shuttle bus to the other terminal to pick up a Japanese sim card for my phone that I had ordered.  So there I was with my 2 suitcases, laptop and carry-on bag waiting for the bus.  When it arrives a Japanese guy comes up to me and asks if I am catching this bus.  When I said "yes", he took hold of one of the suitcases and the laptop and tells me that he will help.  He then gets on the bus with me and when the bus gets to the other terminal, helps me off the bus with my bags, gets a luggage trolley for me and helps me load them on.  Now, I don't even know if this guy was even intending to go to this terminal, but it just wasn't any trouble at all for him to help me out!  Later that day before I had met with the landlord, I was walking around the streets of Tokyo (Shibuya) looking for their office and an old man came up to me and asked if I needed any help.  I explained that I was looking for the real estate company's offices.  He didn't know where they were, but stopped and had a chat with me anyway.  He asked where I come from and I told him Australia.  He then said "Oh, Australia is very hot now, summer.  Lots of fires and storms and water and....and....Tasmanian Devils!!  Very dangerous place!"  He then asked me how old I was.  I told him 41 and he laughed and said "I am 81, twice your age!!" He pointed me back to the train station where he told me I would find an information counter and sent me on my way!  A couple of very nice experiences already!

So after settling in to my new home I decided to go for a walk to have a look around my new neighbourhood.  Not far from my house I discovered a little Shinto Shrine.

In that picture, just before that gates, at the top of the steps you can see a couple of small statues:

I'm not sure what they are representing, maybe guarding the temple, but I look forward to finding out about them.

A little further on, I came across this.  it looks like a Shinto shrine, although I could be wrong, I'm not really an expert!

Then I stumbled across my most important find so far!  I discovered, right outside my train station, a liquor store that sells my favourite beer that is made in Adelaide!

So, of course I had to get a couple!  It just feels like I was supposed to be living in this part of Tokyo!!

I have met a few of my housemates who all seem very friendly.  The house has a mix of Japanese and Korean people with me thrown in as well.  The ones I have spoken to speak pretty good English, now I have to improve my Japanese (and learn some Korean too!).

Tomorrow is a public holiday so I might catch a train out of Tokyo and see if I can find some snow somewhere!  Then on Tuesday I have to go to the local government office to register my address with them and open a bank account.  After that I will be ready to go to my work, sign my contract and start training.

I'm looking forward to all of that happening and will give another update soon!