Friday, July 4, 2008


I just got back from camp with my homeroom. It's been stressful, but God is good, and it turned out great!

First background. Twice a year the school goes on camp. Once in winter, and once in summer. The whole school is fairly small, so we all go together. The students are very tight knit because of this.

But the school is getting larger by the year and it's getting more and more difficult to find a place for everybody on short notice. This is especially true since only a few teachers seem to do everything. You should already be seeing problems. Teacher's, especially the Japanese, seem to take too much on themselves frequently. They want to serve the students. This doesn't make sense because we aren't here to serve, we're here to teach. It's doubly annoying because one of the missions of these camps is to create leadership skills in the students. (More on this later.)

The other main problem, is that we wait until a month and a half before. Apparently we usually do it a few months ahead, but this still doesn't make sense to me. Why aren't we booking something for 200 kicks at least six months in adance, if not a year or two? Things being very busy this year, we waited until the last second (a month and a half rather than 2-3) and instead of dealing with it, it was decided that each homeroom would deal with camp themselves.

I thought this was a bad idea. The first reason for this is that the students are so tight. Grade levels are irrelevant to most students. In fact, the first thing my kids asked for when we talked about this was "we want to go with the 10th graders". The second problem is that splitting resources like this is inefficient. Supervisors will only be able to go one place. Money can't be used efficiently. We aren't doing one camp, we're doing four. That will increase overhead in time and resources. Nobody else saw it that way though. Just roses and rainbows because we only have to each find a place for 20, rather than 200. Basic economics. Bulk usually means cheaper per unit.

So now every homeroom teacher has to fend for themselves. Great. I have no clue. Fortunately, my Japanese assistant is worth more than her weight in gold. But finding a place that was in budget was hard. We had about 7500 yen ($70) per student. But even that was challenging because most good places are far away. It wasn't until the students asked a senior teacher (who used to organize these things) to accompany our class that things took off. She found us a place and we were on our way.

As the weeks progressed and I started putting events and materials together, things changed. Several weeks before, we revieved the official guidelines. Budget dropped to 4000 to 5000 yen, but the school would pick up transportation costs. Annoying, but we're roll with it.

The problems arose when we tried to actually get money. Everybody had a different budget, and figuring the total amount is still not easy. What is 4000 to 5000 yen? 4300? 4700? Some people thought it was still 7500. I had to fight to get emergency money. (You know, in case somebody breaks their arm or something. Over budget emergency funds.) Plus we kept losing kids. The way our situation was set up, almost everything had a fixed cost. Transportation and the cabins don't change. We just cram fewer kids in. So as the budget and number of students bounced around, I'm watching my margins tighten.

Then I'm told we're going to have rain. Unfortunately, our backup plans cost about another $100 per day. Two days or rain would likely put us slightly over budget.

I don't want to do on any more. In the end though, everybody was saying "we aren't going to do it this way again. We're booking a big place a year ahead of time." Then later I found out we were the "most organized group." Considering our start, this was a huge compliment. I give all credit to my assistant for being in good communication with the office. We were given crazy expectations and we worked through it. The kids were great, and the other teachers were great.

We had a wonderful team of supervisors, including my wife. We just got back this afternoon and I can say now it was wonderful. All the hard work payed off. We didn't even get rained on, even though it because an 80% chance a day before. It was overcast, but we got to swim and BBQ outside, and even played some night games.

It was a blast and Joy got to become friends with my assistant and some of the kids. Mr. White was hilarious and even the 3 1/2 hour car trip seemed short. Praise God!

One final note about the "night games". We played something called "kimodameshi". The kids mentioned it when we first started talking about activities. My assistant translated it as "Ghost... stories?... and a night walk." I thought they were making something up. I didn't realize this is an old camp favorite here.

First the students sit around telling scary stories. Then they walk this path that had been set up before hand. It is dark, and creepy. They go as one guy and a girl. Basicaly by the time they go they are already freeked out, and then they have to wander into the dark alone. Creepy, awesome idea.

I started us out with the first story. A lonely nerd meets a girl online that truly understands him. Each feels trapped by their lives and they come together. But they can't meet. One miserable night their love overwhelms them and the boy tells the girl to open her door, where ever she is and shout some love poem. A moment later, he hears the front door downstairs open and someone shouting the poem... it was his mother!!!

Scary eh?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ninja Story

The kids asked me to write a story about "meeting a Ninja" for this month's newsletter. This is what I came up with. I wanted something like those Reader's Digest "angel stories" with a bit of a dark psychological bite to it. It's actually not my usual style at all. It is definitely not the whimsical Ninja yarn I usually spin, but I'm quite happy how it turned out.

The version I gave the kids was a little watered down. I downplayed the rum and suicide angle. It's a shame, though, because Judy's slightly pathological empathy for the girl is the only reason why this doesn't feel like a child kidnapping story. I also loved the imagery of rum. The dark smell made the scene very creepy.

I love this kind of sacreliciousness. It's kind of pathetic the way some people think "Christian story" means "literal retelling of actual events" or "American prairie story". I don't know why a story can't just be good but with an intentional Christian backdrop behind a complex story. One can take flack for finding Christian undertones in secular work, and for secularizing a Christian story too much.

I wanted Judy to seem real. I wanted her to cry for help in a way. God is not literally here. There are no angels. But there is a girl that hurts and has a need, and it is answered in a mysterious way. Plus, it's all wrapped up in a bizarre reciprocity moral. I'm not saying it's great, but I feel like I have to defend it, because it doesn't say "this is an angel and she called out to God specifically." That bugs me.

Why can't we teach our world view by creating stories based on a Christian mythos, without pounding "facts" into the reader's head?

Judy and the Ninja

Judy's heart sank when she saw the girl. Painful memories flooded back in photographic clarity. The little girl stood in front of the boat ride staring at the sign, "All children must be accompanied by an adult." Having never known her mother, and growing up with an alcoholic father, Judy knew the true cost of love because she never seemed to have enough tears to pay for a single moment. Some things should never be taken for granted. Her friends would be here in just a few minutes, and it might be awkward, but the emptiness in the girls face haunted her.

Hand outstretched with a big red balloon. "Would you like me to take you on this ride?" she smiles. Slowly the girl turns her head. Time stops as Judy sees herself in the girl’s eyes. The girl nods and clasps the balloon.

It was one of those boat rides with ghosts and pirates jumping out of treasure filled caves under the glow of cheap stage lighting. Pirates always scared Judy. The smell of rum and sweat reminded her of her father. It's silly, but Judy found herself gripping the seats a little.

"What's your name?" looking away from a pirate holding a bottle and tipped over a barrel. The girl just stares ahead.

We should have gone to Cupcake Land, this is too real, she clenches the seat tighter as two animated robot pirates walk towards the boat from the fiery remains of a plundered Spanish fort.

Turning towards the girl, "Hey, look at how realistic those pir..." But the girl wasn't there. Panicked, she jumps from the boat, but the girl isn't in the water either. Forgetting the pirates, she crawls, sobbing, onto the cobblestone fort screaming, "Little Girl! Little Girl!" Her knees begin to buckle.

Then, out of the corner of her eye, she sees her. Standing atop the highest cannon tower, a dark silhouette amid the red inferno, she floats on a sea of flame. The ballet of red light flickering from her balloon on the cave walls pales in magnificence to the crimson orchestra beaming from her dark red eyes. Fueled by an angry fire from within, she floats untouched by the cool licks of flame.

Judy’s wrists ache as the smell of blood and rum burn in her nostrils. She's going to jump. She's going to... "Nooo..." But her scream is cut off as something hits her in the side of the head. She feels another blow and then only the hard stone against her back. The dark smell of rum is unmistakable as she sees her attackers. She recognizes the pirates standing over her just as another flurry of blows connect with her side and head.

She begins to black out, but manages to look up at the tower again, more worried for the girl than herself. But it was no longer the silhouette of a girl. It was a strange black outline of a man in tightly wrapped black clothing, but that same unmistakable fire burned in his eyes... the last thing Judy remembers is a puff of smoke, and a cool wind...

"Do you remember what happened?" the officer questioned Judy in she lay on the stretcher. She could see the boat ride behind him. It was a heap of smoke and rubble. A school bus lay on top in several pieces. Hundreds of bits of strange star shaped metal protruded from the surfaces of every building wall in sight.

"No, first the girl was there, and then she wasn't. I blacked out, and that was that."

"Yeah... the girl... where did you say you met her?"

"In front of the ride. Just ask the man at the ticket counter."

"I'm afraid I've already done that. He says you bought two tickets, but then went on the ride alone after releasing a red balloon into the air. This is all very strange."

"But I'm telling you, she was with me on..."

Judy saw the odd silhouette again standing on top of the fun house, a dark spot against the setting sun. His tightly bound black robes covered all but his eyes, considerably cooler and kinder than before. In his hand is the red balloon. He lets it go and she watches it just for a moment. When she looks back to the building, the dark man is gone.

"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing, some have unwittingly entertained ninjas."
Hebrews 13:2 KNV (Ken's Ninja Version)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Zombie Eikaiwa

English of the Dead...

I must get my hands on this. If for no other reason than to prove to myself that, when it really counts, I still can't write proper English. Seriously, how much do you want to bet that this is harder for native English speakers than Japanese. For one, they write their numbers funny. If you don't write "1" or "7" the "right" way, it is illegibly wrong. I have seriously had people question me about what I wrote. I am worthless at the Japanese version of brain training because of this. (That, and rock paper scissors kicks my ass when the words are different because it's so ingraining in my psyche as stationary words.)

Watch this video. It's so money. I love the way the boxes kind of look like censored boxes. Don't look now kids, there's "VIOLENCE" between this Zombie's legs.

I don't think some of these creatures are real zombie's. The guy with the French hat, definitely. The monkey dead-lifting bananas, pretty sure not. Is that zombie hooker Metallo after ballet class.... maybe.... Plus there's baby zombie being held by a scientist with a bottle of slime, and by-the-sea zombie just hoping to the heaven's above that God would bring her a zombie with two arms still left to hold her.

You should all try this in California for the illegals. Make it up like the day of the dead. It'll be like Grim Fandango only with less English and more mariachi.... and lots of gun violence. So, pretty much LA on a normal day, except it will teach you how to hold up a shop and swear at cops in ENGLISH. It's a start.

I'D play it if they made a Japanese of the Dead. It would be hard to translate though. I'm sure "zombie" in Japanese is probably "Undead foreign devils". It would be insensitive to be too literal. So they would clear things up by being more specific: undead Korean and Chinese foreign devils. You know, exclude the cute foreigners and just go for the annoying ones that take all their jobs. (i.e. Non English teaching jobs)

It's weird how this topic has evolved. But speaking of English teaching jobs. It's really interesting to see all the changes happening in there. Doesn't seem like as many people are interested. It used to be the prime ministry for churches here, but it just doesn't draw the numbers anymore. The top Eikaiwa (English school) over here went belly up a few months back, too. As I understand it, it had a lot to do with corrupt business practices. But still, it's interesting. I've even heard that the government is re-thinking a lot of the state-sponsored JET program.

It seems to me that the fetish with English has to die sooner or later, and it may be happening in this generation. Maybe that game is a weird id-level catharsis or something. There will always be people interested en English, though. Too many movies made in the States. But I really don't know how an industry like this can last when everybody spends tons of money to learn a language, but aren't interested in traveling overseas or using it at all.

It's a weird obsession if you think about it. It's like taking tons of ballroom dancing classes and never going out to dance. In some cases, it's like even refusing to dance at the lessons and just taking notes. But they keep coming back.

Many teachers can't even speak English. Joy's got some creepy stories about Japanese professors correcting her English. I've seen some of her written assignments too. Imagine getting getting a grammar quiz like this:

What is the passed tense of funny?
a. funnied
b. funned
c. funzied
d. funniest

I'd look at this and say "D is the only one I recognize, maybe the question is wrong?" Then Joy would explain that her teacher is an idiot. So I'd try to use some "English intuition" and advise that she try A, also thinking B might be a possibility... but it, of course, turns out to be C. Not only does she get it wrong, but everyone who didn't get it right is called an idiot by the teacher. And he corrects her accent.

You know what, the joke here is on the Japanese. You are the zombie. Many of you don't know why you even want to learn English. You never evaluate how effective your learning has been. You never use what you learn. Buying oxygen in a can is more cost effective than the way many people try to learn English over here. They aren't all bad, but nobody cares either way. They just shell out cash on the promise.

You are the zombie. The monsters in this game aren't zombies crying out for your brains. They know you never use use yours and it won't taste good. Those noises are the sound of them laughing at you for buying this game thinking you will learn any real English from it.

Monday, April 7, 2008


I am taking a small break amidst the craziness of this week to write about the loveliest time of year in Japan. It's amazing to me how my mood changes with the weather. California is just hot and dry all the time. The few changes that happened made me happy in odd ways. For example, I love the rain. But I never knew real cold. Never had a real winter wardrobe. I didn't know what it was like to be really cooped up inside for months because going outside is such a drag.

The sun starts to come out, and it's like everyone and everything around me just gets way better than it has been for the last three months. I feel re-energized. I'm just happy about the world. Yes, I know I AM getting married in less than a month, and I will happily admit that that is a huge part of it. It's not just the physical winter that is ending, but a four year metaphorical one as well. The sun is finally starting to come out.

We're so excited about this summer. Her dad is fairly strict. There are a lot of seemingly minor things we haven't been able to do that we are looking forward to. We can't wait for the summer warmth and late night summer festivals flooded with pretty girls in yukata, good food, and ending it all together in our home.

Yesterday we took a break from the craziness and went out for hanami. This is the spring cherry blossom viewing. Right now they are in full bloom, and everyone floods the parks to picnic. We were enjoying o-bentou, and sipping plum wine as cherry petals fell like snow around us. Next to us was a river mote at the base of Osaka castle up on a hill. On the other side was a man playing jazz on an electric piano. The sun was shining warmly on top of a cool breeze as she read a book and I fell asleep with my head nestled in her lap.

Good times.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Quantum of Awesome

My new most favorite thing is the new James Bond movie. I just watched it for the second time this week. I never re-watch movies. I never watch movies by myself for that matter. I want to see the next one, Quantum of Solace, so bad my eyes hurt.

What is awesome about this movie? Realistic martial arts that really look like Judo inspired street fighting and not staged nerve strike "Judo chop" BS. Brutal, smart, and frigid assassin style Bond. The guy uses his head and doesn't just mow everybody down and escape every fix with a slick gadget. He uses Judo, and brains, just like the books. Then there is the overall fascinating insight into the character of Bond as they rebuild him from scratch.

And on that topic, I love the way the music builds thematically. The opening theme is great. You never hear the classic theme though. Mostly there are a lot of reflections of the opening theme throughout the film. But that theme fits so well within the general Bond musical palette. As you watch the film, you could swear they are about to start with the classic theme, but it turns out to be just another bait and switch as they throw the opening theme at you again. But they get closer and closer to it throughout the entire film. The music builds with his character. He is becoming bond, and the music shows that.

I remember the first Brosnan film. It was the first Bond in a number of years when it came out. The best moment was when you heard that theme for the first time again. There is something about it. In these new films they aren't throwing it away so easily and I love it. The slow climax is driving me crazy, in a good way. It's brilliant. I can't wait to see how they finish refining the character and bond, in all his glory, blasts forth from the screen bathed in blood, bullets, and brass.

On a final note it would be wrong of me to not mention that Eva Green is hot. HOT!! Kate Beckinsale has been dethroned.

If you haven't seen this movie, go watch it. If you didn't like it, fair enough. Don't bother complaining if all you have to say is that there is no Q, Money Penny, gadgets, or the classic theme song. I don't really care. This movie was pure hotness.

Crazy Busy

Sorry I haven't posted in a little over a week now. It's been crazy busy. But I wanted to say hi.

So, what have I been up to?

School ended last week. That meant that I had finals to write and grades to finish. I got everything in on Friday (two days before the deadline, woot!) just so I could show up and work late planning lessons for the next academic year which begins in less than two weeks. I have been completely rewriting the curriculum for the next year. It needs to be done, but I'm also getting a lot of pressure to do so from the higher ups. There's a lot of "Wendy did... good, but you can do better. We hired you because you have a solid background in CS, so show us what you've got." I dig it. I'm also gonna do some cool stuff this year including some programming. But it's a lot of pressure right now.

All this needs to be done ASAP, because after I finish writing it, many of the materials will need to be translated. On top of that, I have to be far enough ahead to plan for the subs that will be taking over for me during my wedding. YAY! It's all for a good cause, but it makes for lots of pressure right now.

I've also been spending some late nights trying to fix a profile issue with the roaming student accounts at school. Turns out redirecting works better if you just let windows put everything in the profile and handle things itself. It took a couple long days to figure out the problem. The IT guy was convinced it was a local machine disk rights issue that couldn't be fixed. Can't be done my ass... It felt good fixing it, but it was a lot of work. Now that I've figured it out, we shouldn't have any more login problems and everybody will start up a lot faster. That is, after I recreate accounts for all 120 students.

In addition to all this I've been trying to handle wedding madness. I just ordered the rings. Joy's wouldn't order at all with my card, so I had to ask her aunt to order it from the States. Mine went through, but then I had a problem with the billing address. But I couldn't fix it right away because I had my card invalidated again pulling out money for Joy (three different pin codes on three different cards + bad memory + only five pin errors allowed = headache). So I stayed up late to fix that, and then I called the ring people to fix my order. They are still checking things out. You seriously look like a scammer when you are using American cards in Japanese ATM machines and the zip code on your funky unpronouncable (to most Americans) is too long to fit in the zip code field on most websites.

I think I've figured out the grooms gifts, but I need to order them still. I can't wait to share all the crazy ideas that wouldn't work. I'll write a post about that after the wedding. I still need to pick music for the wedding. I'm also trying to organize the wedding rehearsal a bit.

All this has added up to 8am to 9pm work days, followed by work at home until about 2am and about 6 hours of sleep for the past several weeks. Not complaining. It's all worth it. But I can't tell you how much I can't wait for this wedding to be over and done with.

Right now it's almost 2am, and I'm still working. Good morning everybody.