|In preparation for Saturday, after booking a swank restaurant for New Year's Eve, we trawled over town to try out Tomomi's brother-in-law's new Sherry Bar. A few sherry cocktails later and Rhod was sprawled out on the bar. Here are some photos of the tiny little 'Face' (Kao) Bar.|
Yule LogI am sat coiled in wires, snug in my new jimjams, while Rhod is singing along merrily to Huey Lewis in Back to the Future, and the apparent hottie (?) of Michael J Fox in his puffy vest jacket. A funny thing, but I feel more festive now, thinking about going out for dinner tomorrow to see in the New Year with a few close friends, than I have over the past week.
Christmas morning was the most fantastic time, having been woken up throughout the night by an overexcited Rhod, who eventually dragged me into the Games Room so he could rip into his presents. He seems very happy punching away on his Beat Mania controller and refusing to be apart from his new Nintendo T-shirt.
|Rhod happy as Riley, enjoying his new toy.|
The Guardian of the Presents
|In an attempt to prevent Rhod prodding, shaking and asking questions about his presents (now I know why my mum and dad kept presents from under the tree until the evening of Christmas Eve), I have posted a sentry on the mountain of presents.|
|Christmas wrapping takes its toll.|
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
|From Santa-san (carrying rice cakes and lobster no less), a very Merry Christmas to our friends and family. Be you in England, Wales, Australia, Canada, or America, I hope these festive greetings reach you. Rest assured, Santa will be soon be merrily (although he may be a bit exhausted, let's be honest) dropping presents down the chimney. From the snowy climes of Kyoto to the sun drenched beaches of Sydney, we hope your Christmases are relaxing and special. All our love and best wishes.|
|What a fantastic way to start the Christmas Holidays, with lashings of snow.|
KazeIt is ironic that in Japanese kaze means both to have a cold, and windy weather. As I have sniffled through the last few days, refusing to take my PJs off, the wind has really been howling at the eaves. Although feeling drugged up, I put in a couple of hours at school this morning as it is my last day before the Winter Vacation, not really doing much but sitting with the students and talking about what films I watched recently. We played hangman (if we don't they whine and sulk), wrote letters to Santa, listened to Christmas songs and played charades (they could only mime animals...sloth, raptor and martian were particularly interesting).
Santa will be getting some nasty things left out for him this year instead of the usual mince pies and whiskey. How about love, happiness, peace, a machine gun, handbag, blood, knife, hand, hammer, stove, new reindeer, lock of hair, heart (I assume not real, but not sure), fangs, bomb, wig, homework, fireworks, kiss, a wink, drawing pins and a bible? I am not sure if my students really understood this task, or else were trying to think of alternative career moves for the big Red.
The story of Christmas is also looking decidedly skewered. The third graders retelling included the resurrection of Jesus (died and returned as Santa Claus), genetically modified 'flying' reindeer, and a Santa Jesus departing his home in Finland to deliver presents far and wide on December 24th. KFC is the traditional food of choice, as obviously the Three Wise Men got a bit peckish on their way to Bethlehem, so stopped off at the local Fast Food joint. Christmas trees are decorated because they look ugly, and Christmas is about cute things...also there are a lot of them in Finland. For the other days of the year Santa Jesus is busy making Easter Eggs.
With a massive sneeze, it is time for me to sit down and stick on some harmless BBC sitcoms and think of wrapping.
And now for the weatherYahoo! is claiming that it'll be snow on Thursday in Kyoto, but it seems we miss out on a white Christmas. Temperatures aren't too friendly, but I'm sure our readers in Canada might consider them favourable ;)
|Struggling from my futon this morning, I slipped onto the balcony to discover the first snow of the year frosting Kyoto. However by the time we left the apartment most of it had melted. Winter has come much earlier this year, and much more aggressively. Snow seems to make the cold worth while though.|
"Nobody dies of migraine"Anyone who knows me knows full well that I'm not the depressive or negative type, but on many, many occasions when a migraine really gets going, I've seriously considered ramming my head into the floor until everything goes away.
It was with no small amount of horror, then, that I read one doctor state today that "Nobody dies of migraine". I'm quite certain many have done.
The article, regarding a new take on the already very promising trials into (reasonably) simple heart operations to cure migraine, is certainly interesting. I've been following this research for over a year (Britain is carrying out a trial with 750 sufferers, which I would certainly have signed up for had I been in the country).
It's just a shame that migraine still carries a great stigma around it, even in this article. It's often a very poorly received reason for a day off work (despite my never, ever having felt as bad with a cold or stomach bug as with even the smallest migraine). I've become used to reactions such as 'that's a woman's problem' or 'it's just a headache'. What most people fail to consider is the vomiting, numbness, blindness and very serious depression that it causes. I was just a bit shocked that a cardiac doctor would be so dismissive, too. I understand that he is wary of giving heart surgery for 'headaches', but he's completely disregarding the substantial impact they have on all aspects of life. I wouldn't hesitate, not one second, to opt for risky surgery if it meant that I would never again suffer the three days of misery and confusion that these 'women's troubles' bring me.
All that said, and probably tempting fate here, I've not suffered one for many a month now. A happy ending to a ranty post! Hurrah!
StovesLike the long lines of people queuing for bread in 80s USSR, so students wait in the freezing cold each morning for a small hose that they can take back to their classrooms. This small pipe connects the gas supply to the one ancient stove provided for each class. The stoves are powerful, capable of melting any fabric, up to the distance of 1 metre. If your desk is not closest to the blackboard, then you have no chance of getting even a flicker of warmth.
Students aren't allowed to wear gloves, hats, scarves or drape themselves in blankets during class time. Needless to say that means if ever the police needed to do a strip search then they would spend the better part of an hour getting all the student's clothes off, for carefully concealed beneath the uniform are usually no less than five layers. The morning greetings usually involve comparing the number of clothes we are wearing. With only 3 or 4 I am usually slapped on the back and considered daring.
Today was study hall. The most brain-numbingly boring of my weekly tasks. After lunch the students have a free hour to 'study', though most end up doing the homework for the week as quickly as they can. No talking or moving around is allowed. I prop my head up and try not to doze, lucky enough to be close to the nuclear heat of the stove.
This afternoon was particularly cold, my breath coming out in misty clouds. All the students had pressed their desks towards the stove, packing themselves in as close as could be. I slowly read the same sentence over and over, sleepily not taking any of my book in.
Occasionally a boy and girl would argue, bantering and tossing things at one another. A quick 'Oiii!' and the silence would spin out. So it was no surprise to hear two more voices raised a few moments later:
'Saya your hat is on fire!'
Saya turns, slams her fist on Teru's desk and smacks his chest.
'I have had enough of your teasing. Please piss off'
'Hahahaa, and you're going to get a punch'.
Distraught cries from neighbours. Saya looks around her, furious to be disturbed.
I look up, tired of being woken up yet again, to see a small trail of smoke twisting up from Saya's hat. Her scarf tassels have already ignited. Despite being told not to wear hats and scarves, no-one is paying any attention. Almost sitting on the stove, her scarf has draped onto the heating element, igniting it.
The burning smell fills the room. Teru rips off her hat and throws it to the floor, stomping on it. Saya's reaction is to jump up and run, screaming around the room, fanning the flames. Half the class begins to chase her, trying to pull the scarf off. Smoke is pouring from her. I look at my bottle of water, have second thoughts and scream for her to go to the sink.
The boys are only too happy to drench her in freezing water. Shock holds my tongue, stifles the panicky giggles. I shake my head and tell her to go down to the nurse to get out of her soaking clothes.
Stoves are fine for 19th Century Victorian London, but not for school kids. Three cases of students on fire today, one kid actively burning his homework. Gas and kids don't mix.
Licky RaptorsFirst years like licking me. Disgusting little monsters with lime green snot caked to their upper lips, drooling, toothless grins. Of course I am talking about the 6 year olds from elementary school, not the 12 year olds from junior high...that would be weird. Well, weirder. Today was one of my rare appearances at the local elementary school, where I got to explain what a turkey looks like (they are not purple Yuta), was told that Santa battled Christ for control of Christmas, got jeered at for insisting that Christmas falls on December 25th, and hysterical peals of laughter talking about presents in stockings...well just the stockings.
Why do they lick me? I have no idea. They like my hairy arms, but how this equates to licking me I have no idea. Maybe it has something to do with my reaction that makes them want to all join in.
Running upstairs to class, I spotted a small pack separated from the herd. They saw me and instantly pounded down the corridor. I dashed into an empty class, closed the door and hid behind a pile of old desks. Their footsteps faltered just beyond the door. With my heart racing I thought of the Raptors from Jurassic Park, cut to Laura Dern saying '...unless they figure out how to open doors'. The tip of a head appeared in the glass frame of the door, emitting a spray of condensation...a beady eye as one peered into the room. Ducking down I prayed they wouldn't open the door...just as it slid open.
They're in the room!
I had a slim chance of making it out the back entrance and through the adjacent classroom. The rest of the herd had joined them, and a constant stream poured in. Backing away, I felt slimy drool dripping on to my arm, turned and realised that it was all too late. While some were at the door, others had sneaked in through the back passage.
I was licked. A lot. It was gross. The end.
Another boring crunch postKieren is hopefully sleeping soundly at home, but with only 60 minutes until his alarm wakes him for his Friday, my Thursday is still rolling on at work.
It's another one of those milestones where the project comes on in leaps and bounds and so, inspired by the progress, people keep requesting and adding new features. The deadlines move, each time eating into the next one and assuring that the next crunch is at least as crazy as this one. Had we not moved this deadline.. had we done this big, 48hr final crunch a fortnight ago, we'd still have reached a similar level of polish (with less content, but very few significant things missing). We'd have avoided the repeated 'mock executions'. We'd be less tired. We'd certainly have more room to move and experiment with our next deadline. And we probably wouldn't have had as many reasons as we now do to move that one a few times, too.
It's through no fault of any individual, of course. My company is one of the more friendly and group-oriented. The problem is widespread, recently very well documented, endemic, fused into the very structure of the developer publisher model that we're in. It's just that at 4:47am, with Friday a total write-off, it's really hard to see how it can really be in any way sensible or productive. We should surely be able to find a way to make the working week work.
I love my job, but I love evenings, too.
|This game is solid gold. Whoever first came up with the idea for this game, I thank you a million times. Every single one of my students joined in the class for the first time ever!|
Stalingrad or School?The urinals are blocked again, the grimy tiles damp with foot prints. An ancient hairless mop lies propped against the broken cupboard and the sinks are clogged with decaying soap. The smell of piss follows me up the concrete stairwell, past windows with broken catches, peeling student posters failing to conceal the stained walls and broken skirting. As I walk up to the class, I pass more toilets reeking of piss, and sinks stained with years of grime. The windows are coated in dust, the sliding doors patched up from numerous encounters with student feet.
Inside, the classroom is a little less desolate. Ignoring chairs and desks from when Lenin was a boy, the ancient shelves and lockers are crumbling with age. A few potted plants suicidally edge off the window sill. The home room teacher has attempted to brighten things up with student work, their art and mementos. But the dash of colour is drowned in a sea of black uniforms, tattered curtains and a floor that looks reclaimed from times of yore.
If I was dumped in these buildings with amnesia, I would probably estimate that (without seeing anyone) I am in a post-communist country, a crumbling Russian relic to the Soviet era. The storm clouds and chilling wind rushing through the corridors only add to the illusion that this is an industrial, grey landscape from the days of Stalin. Although the hammer and sickle are missing, I expect people to appear dressed in plain uniform, all addressing me as comrade.
No heating is permitted until the very middle of January, the depth of Winter. Scarves, gloves, blankets and sweaters are forbidden. All is for the good of the cause. No matter that the swines who run this little slab of ugly public planning are resting in stove heated offices, far removed from the echoing classrooms.
Slogans seem to run throughout the day. Sitting through the cold makes us more hardy to the Winter! Eat healthy and exercise to keep influenza at bay! Conserve energy by keeping doors and windows shut! A hardworking school is a happy school!
All of this is for the cause? Or to save money?
It makes me sad, because all of what I have just said is in no way exaggerated. All of it is the truth. Public schools are often in a sorry state of repair (I have worked in two junior high schools and one senior, and they are all fading relics of the 60s and 70s) and all are Victorianly sparse. There are no stoves until the very coldest part of winter because the schools have no money (and try to paper over this fact by pretending the cold makes each student hardy). Students find it unbearable to work, succumb to colds and complain ceaselessly. No-one listens. It is true that some homeroom teachers make an effort to spruce up their classrooms with plants and books and posters and small personal touches, but all of it comes out of their own pocket.
I myself schooled in a Victorian building, but all of the classrooms were heated, filled with up to date materials, chairs and tables. Students paid more respect, not just because we were told to, but because our classes were comfortable. If the heating broke in Winter, we went home.
Japan has for some reason not paid much attention to the up-keep of its schools. There is a slow government programme of replacing them with new buildings, but it is a rarity. There are in fact no janitors in public school. Students themselves are responsible for cleaning. Furniture and materials are desperately lacking or else ancient. And the most frightening thing is that in my city, I work in the richest of districts. For a public school we have more money than most and yet...
I find it so unfair that the little buggers have to freeze. How about locking the government officials in a freezer and see how well their fingers work then.
The Howling of the WindThe first snow flurries of the year arrived, with a northern wind that feels as if it could tear you to shreds. I will not launch into my spiel about how the gas company colludes with construction firms and the government to deny affordable central heating to the masses. For those of you who say stoves are sufficient, and that for such high temperatures in the summer months it seems impractical on paper to install radiators, I tssk and walk away. Winter is four months long and in Kyoto it hovers rarely above the zero mark. The skies are roiling waves of bruised clouds, the wind blows dry and cold, and my washing gets frozen stiff on the laundry pole.
Shivering in the orb of heat from our tiny steam heater, I planned out Christmas as best I could. Funny that I have to worry about people thousands of miles away, and that through the amazing gift of the internet, can send presents all over England from the comfort of my broken old chair. The dangerous thing being that with a credit card you have no real shopper guilt, and no weight of money in your hand making you think twice.
As sleet spatters the balcony, I will draw my blankets around me and play another round of Mario Kart under the flashing fairy lights of Frank the disco tree. The nicest feeling in the world is to be warm, while outside the world howls angrily. As Rhod burns the midnight candle, I am thinking of how much warmth I am going to steal from him during the night.
|Although not quite as magical as a real tree, there is something charming about our own little disco tree. Hunting around the shops for decorations, we were not spoilt for choice. As tacky as Christmas cracker gifts, most of the Christmas goods would look quite nice roasting on an open fire. But Frank the Tree now has a home and is flashing away happily, and even Rhod's Scroogey heart is melting.|
Curse of the Chimney Sweep Cap
|Oh, look! Another Sweep. Kyoto seems to be teeming with these sooty tykes. A few pots of jellied eel and we'd be back in London.|