Thursday, 18 March 2010

Interviewing My Dong

It's my birthday today. I made it into my fourth decade: much better than the average English cricketer.

As fate would have it I had to go for an interview with the boss of a cram school today. I had already done an interview with a patently lithium taking nut case of a woman that refused to do email and had the gall to insist that I make an impromptu speech about the freedom of the press. I driveled on about South Africa, government corruption and the paparazzi for well beyond my allotted 300 words. The aged woman pretended to listened but I could tell she was relaxing in that lithium space between reality and sleep. 

Friday, 12 March 2010

Having Nothing To Do But Not Being Allowed To Go Home

In Greek mythology Sisyphus was a King punished by Zeus for having the gall to tell tales about the head of the gods. Zeus not only disliked someone gossiping about his sexual conquests but he thought that a mere human was over-stepping the mark by presuming to be important enough to get involved in the affairs of the gods. The punishment that Zeus devised was fiendishly clever. For eternity Sisyphus was made to push a rock up a hill. When the rock was nearly at the top it would roll back to the bottom. Thus Sisyphus was condemned to carrying out a pointless task forever.

Such is the resonance of this tale that it has entered the English language:  the adjective Sisyphean refers to a task that is endless and devoid of purpose or meaning.

Being an ALT or Assistant Language Teacher in Japan has a Sisyphean dimension. On any average day the foreign teacher will only have a few classes to perform his or her assisting role. That role varies from job to job. Some ALTs do the lion’s share of planning and teaching a class. Others have the briefest of cameos in an English lesson.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Wasting Money and Taking Money

Asahi Super Dry congratulates Ibaraki on it's White Elephant.

Two seemingly unrelated news articles caught my attention today. The first is the opening of Ibaraki Prefecture Airport and the second is the Mayor of Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward taking two weeks paid paternity leave. These two stories say volumes for how Japanese are masters at wasting money and geniuses at discouraging people from taking money and benefits that they are entitled to.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Asimo the Robot

Last year I took some students to the Miraikan Museum in Odaiba in Tokyo. My students were engineers for a big company that makes wire harnesses for cars so they were fascinated with the prospect of going to a really geeky museum in Tokyo. And on top of that it was a day out paid for by the government, sorry I mean company. That has to be better than being stuck in a classroom with me wandering what the fuck English speakers were thinking of when they invented the present perfect.

We took the bullet train there. I only mention that because the Japanese take inordinate pride in their shinkansen mega-fast train. As much pride as I have disgust in the exorbitant prices and poor service British Rail offer.

In the museum there's a few cool things. Buzz Aldrin came by to sign a replica of a space station. He might have done it on the way back from filming the Apollo mission in some out-of-the-way warehouse in Japan. There's an imax 3-D cinema that knocks the spots off the Avatar experience. You literally have planets and stars inches away from your eyes; the whole auditorium is filled with the universe. Talk about microcosms. But the undoubted star of the museum was the appearance of Asimo the robot.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Narita Airport Epiphany


There should be more songs about airports I feel. Why? Because they are such emotional places. They try to be all serious and sanitized and secure but really they are the backdrops for emotional upheavals, sad farewells and expectant beginnings. Nowadays all journeys to far-away places begin in an airport. The ultimate anti-climax to any great new venture is being stuck in a waiting lounge wondering if iPod is not perhaps a new religion or at the very least the soma of the twenty-first century.

Last year when I arrived at Narita Airport and rushed off the plane to get through all that rigmarole of passport control and customs so I could have a ciggie outside (fuck going in that smoking booth), I was stopped dead in my tracks by a big sign on the wall. The sign was split horizontally in the middle. The top half said, “Welcome to Japan” and the bottom half said, “Coca Cola”. That was it! What I had been thinking all along. I knew something was wrong with Japan – now I had discovered exactly what gives. Japan is sponsored by Coca Cola. It all made such perfect sense to me that I forgot about my craving for nicotine. That would explain how you can have politics without policies and ideologies. How people can vote but not have an opinion. It explained why the only real religion in Japan was consumerism. Of course, the country is just doing what its sponsor wants – keep on buying and texting and believing in designer goods and expensive cars and plucking your eyelashes and walking like a retard. Live at the surface of the surface. Let your guide be your navigation system. Let your stomach and your eyes be the arbiters of what is good – cute not justice, cool not cerebral, sugar not ganja. That is the coke cola agenda and it has formed a tidy symbiosis with little east-hailing Japan.