Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Start of the Tween Years

I spent the day walking and eating.

I was walking and eating because today is our youngest’s birthday and because I am trapped at home, I took the opportunity to have a daddy-daughter morning and take our youngest to buy her birthday present.

Why so serious? or I'm going to make a mess that's really REALLY big.

Age 5: Why so serious? or I’m not gonna kill ya; I’m gonna make a mess that’s really REALLY big.

We walked to Ito-Yokado which is a chain store owned by Seven & I Holdings which owns 7-11 (which is all I actually understand about how that works. I’m not even sure the store is still called Ito-Yokado). The walk wasn’t so bad, even though the relative humidity is hovering somewhere around “liquid” and when we got to the store, our youngest started playing her favorite game.

The game, PriPara involves cards and fashion and actual gaming but is way too cute for me to be too interested in.

Our youngest plays PriPara. It involves fashion and timing.

Our youngest plays PriPara. It involves fashion and timing. Yes, I think her skirt is too short.

After a few rounds of the game I bought her present (a carrying case for all the cards involved in the game) and had lunch at McDonalds. We then ate way too much Baskin-Robbins ice cream. (Three scoops for the price of two. Resistance is futile.)

After that we returned home and prepared for She Who Must Be Obeyed’s return and, following a few hours recovery, went to dinner Hamburger Factory (Hamburger Koubou) which had surprisingly good hamburger steaks and, in the biggest surprise of all, actual steak.

Our youngest put down all but three bites of a large sirloin and then had room for bread and ice cream (yes, more ice cream). We all stuffed ourselves, especially as they also had something resembling assemble-it-yourself tacos on the salad bar.

Our youngest in the early stages of the sirloin. She ordered it well done. I have failed as a father.

Our youngest, now age 10, in the early stages of the sirloin. She ordered it well done. I have failed as a father.

Now, we are all in that “What have I done?” phase of the meal when all those bad, yet tasty decisions come back to haunt you.

I now live in a house with a tween and teen. Talk about being haunted.


What’s Good for Thee You Can Do Not Me

One of my maxims of politics is “Everyone is for something as long as it doesn’t effect them personally” (aka the Do it to Julia Theory of Altruism.) This is also true of the company I work for.

Because of this, I was ready to throw a small fit at the meeting I had to attend last Monday.

A couple years ago, when the “work” day nonsense started and the powers what are decided I needed to stay in my house all summer because, well, because I am their property I guess, we also got word we were going to  have to fill out a bimonthly form I quickly dubbed “the useless form”.

The useless form amounted to us copying the schedule we were given at the beginning of the year onto a different form and answering two questions and then attaching that form to an email and sending it on. There are lots of political, satiate the government reasons for having us do this but there were some problems. The main problem was that, because we work for the company we work for, most people couldn’t afford a copy of MS Word to use to open and edit the useless form and tried to use Open Office and Libre Office instead. This caused problems that were only resolved recently when the company I work for started putting the forms on line.

About the time the useless form arrived, we were also informed we’d have to fill out a monthly “reflection” in which we were to reflect about our work that month and our goals and our relationships with our Team Teaching partners.

This caused a problem: I don’t have  a team teaching partner. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, none of the private school teachers have teaching partners. This made the reflection part of the useless form as useless as the rest of the form.

Then, early this year, we lost our head teacher to more meaningful and gainful employment and no one wanted to be head teacher. Because the work of managing the useless forms would fall to our immediate supervisors, the all-important monthly reflection suddenly became less important. In fact, we didn’t have to do it at all.

At the last meeting, though, I knew some sucker had been persuaded to become head teacher. I therefore expected that the useless monthly reflection would suddenly be active again and I was ready to throw a “you @$$holes” fit. Instead, the reflections were left in the ash heap of history.

I expect, however, they’ll be back next year.



X Marks the Spot Unless Y is Necessary

At the school where I work we are, on occasion, “encouraged” to help students pass. This can get kind of complicated.

In a nutshell, the school where I work is connected to a major private university. Students who graduate the high school with high enough marks (and, quite frankly, those “high enough marks” are pretty low) get automatic recommendation to the university without having to take the university entrance exam.

Those who fail have to take the exam. Because of this, the marks the students get in their third year of high school (US 12th grade) can make or break their university entrance. Because the university needs more boys (long story) the university encourages the high school to send more boys.

(Note: My suggestion is to advertise the university as “overrun by beautiful women” and the problem will take care of itself. Hell, even I might go back to school. If, ahem, of course, I were not married I would. Of course.)

In my case, I’ve only had pressure to pass one student and that was resolved by math and illness.  One of the ways a student can fail is to miss 30% or more of the total classes. I had a student do that and suddenly found myself in a meeting with lots of school brass who told me sad stories about the boy. They had the saddest, most serious faces you’ve ever seen. Finally, someone asked me when the student had been absent. It turned out that one batch of absences coincided with him having the flu. Students with the flu are banned from school for several days which means their absences don’t count.

You’ll rarely see a happier group of men unless alcohol is involved. I told them if he handed in his final assignment they could go ahead and change the score. He did and they did. At no point, I might add, did I ever get a chance to talk to the student. It was all done through proxies. Even when he turned in his final assignment.

The worst ever pressurization (so to speak), and in many ways the most ridiculous, happened to a friend and former colleague. She failed a student who’d only shown up to the first two classes and then never came back again. It’s no joke to say she couldn’t have picked him out of a police line up. She would have said “the empty space at the end of the line of boys looks like him” and that would have been about as well as she could have done.

However, the then brass approached her and asked her to pass him. She quite reasonably pointed out it wouldn’t be fair to the students who’d actually attended class and actually done work for her to pass a guy who resembled negative space.  After more pressure she agreed to pass him if he did the assignments.

A couple days later she was told that it was too difficult for him. She explained something along the lines of “that’s what happens when you are negative space and not a student”. After more pressure she offered samples of other students’ work as examples.

A few days after that she got the assignments back and, well, lets just say there’s angry and then there’s “I’m going to nuke the whole f@#king world and laugh while it burns” angry.

She was angrier than that.

The student had not only copied the sample assignments word for word, he’d also copied her comments. In the end she threw the marks form at the people pressuring her and said something along the lines of you write what you think he deserves. In the end, the student passed.

I don’t know if, during this process, she actually met the student.

I just hope they gave him a perfect score. That would have been the perfect end to all that.


Nice People I Don’t Really Want to See

I spent the morning with people I like but didn’t really want to see.

I did this because the company I work for has one simple goal: keep my butt trapped in my house from 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m every day during the summer because, well, because they said so. However, every now and then they let me out of the house and tell me to come down to Tokyo for a meeting.

Frankly, I’d rather stay home and “work”.

The meetings involve all the private school teachers assembling at the Tokyo office for a three hour meeting. The meeting today started with our actual decision making boss giving us a short pep-talk about how wonderful we are and how the fact we are private school teacher shows we are like the best teachers in Japan.

The whole time, though, I couldn’t help but bite my pen to keep myself from speaking and or grunting (not a joke) and to think “Put up or the shut the fuck up” because the undertone of his speech was “You are wonderful and special and we will not give you a raise and you have to keep the busy work “work” days but at least I’m saying nice things for the 22.5 seconds I’m going to bother speaking to you before I go back to real work. Yay, you.” (Something like that.)

We then shared ideas and discussed our jobs as if we haven’t done that before at every meeting and wouldn’t rather be doing it over beer. Since there was no beer present, we wondered why we couldn’t have shared ideas via email.

The meeting seems to be less work, but with the travel, I actually end up working exactly the same amount of time and can’t just pretend I’m working, er, I mean working efficiently and effectively. The company is adamant enough about the time table that they remind us not to submit work too early lest it look as if we’re not working. (Note: that’s not a joke; we were told that, in so many words today. Apparently working efficiently and effectively is not allowed.)

The day wasn’t a total annoying loss. After the meeting I had lunch at an Italian restaurant that served the best grilled pork and grilled vegetables I’ve had in Japan (all for only 900 yen or $7.30) and I got a chance to go to a foreign food and beverage store and stock up on a few essentials: pasta, beer, and bourbon.

Tomorrow, I’m stuck in the house again. I will, of course, officially, of course, be working most of the day. I totally won’t be playing a game. (I also now have lots of beer and bourbon.)

Neither Comfort nor Sympathy

My job, since this morning has been both to comfort and to prevent a break out.

Our youngest is doing an overnight stay at an elementary school with a random group of people and She Who Must Be Obeyed is trying to think of 1) the various ways our youngest can and will hurt herself and 2) ways she can escape my surveillance and security system to go check on our youngest.

The overnight stay is an annual community center event for young kids where they get a chance to leave the nest a bit and the parents get to practice having the young kids leave the nest. Part of the event involves a uniquely Japanese haunted house scavenger hunt. This amounts to the kids having to got get stamps in darkened rooms from various people in scary costumes. When I’ve seen this done before the students were given flashlights and then handed cards that told them where to go. When they got all the stamps they got some sort of prize.

She Who Must Be Obeyed has, since dropping our youngest off,  tried to think of excuses to get near the school. She’s been trying to think of things our youngest forgot that must be delivered immediately. At one point SWMBO wanted to go help make and/or eat the curry and rice the students were eating for supper.

My job has been to express a modicum of sympathy whilst slapping down all the excuses.

SWMBO: What if she gets sick?
Me:  They will call us.
SWMBO: What if she gets injured?
Me: They will call us and take her to a hospital.
SWMBO: What if there’s an earthquake?
Me: We’ll learn about it at the same time she does.
SWMBO: What if the school burns down?
Me: We’ll hear about it on the news.
SWMBO: What if a meteor crashes into the school?
Me: That would be kind of cool so I’ll go take pictures of it.

I realize that none of these are, perhaps, the most comforting but as the dad in this situation my job is not to comfort or to be sympathetic but rather to express sympathy whilst hiding the car keys and She Who Must Be Obeyed’s shoes.

I’ve not yet tried restraints to keep SWMBO in the house, but we’ll see, especially because it’s bed time and I have to work tomorrow.

Some Things are Sentimental; Some Things are Just Junk

I have four watches, but only two work. The two that don’t work, though, have strong sentimental value and that’s a problem.

Despite my ever changing collections of stuff, I’ve never been big on watches and usually have only had one at a time. I still remember getting a Mickey Mouse several hundred years ago when I was little and a digital watch sometime in the late ’70s.

I also liked them as gadgets and went through a phase of Casio digital watches. I had a watch a lot like this one, with a built in touch screen calculator. (Note: this means to me the Apple Watch is kind of retro/old-fashioned.) I also remember, at one point, having a watch that combined both an analog dial and a digital readout (it looked vaguely like this).

Then, after my grandfather died in the early 1990’s I inherited his retirement watch, which was a Seiko 17 Jewel Automatic he got in 1979. His retirement date is engraved on the back.

I inherited it because I used to terrorize the company he worked for with my big wheel, er, I used to race around the factory floor on my Big Wheel. I’m sure that would violate at least 17 different federal workplace safety laws now and my parents would go to jail for allowing me to have access to “motorized” transportation. (Note: it probably violated 17 different federal workplace safety laws back then, too.)

The watch is self-winding and has the odd quirk, for an automatic watch at least, of actually gaining time each day rather than losing it. In fact, it gains about a minute a day and by the end of the week, if I don’t reset it, all I know is that it isn’t that time yet. This means I’m always early to places when I wear it.

I wore the Seiko until a couple years ago when I cracked the crystal and took it in to be repaired and overhauled. I then discovered it was so old it was on a Do Not Repair list. The repairman proved this by showing me the book with the watch’s serial number in a small square on one of the pages. I replaced it with a more modern Seiko 5 SNKE63k1 Automatic (that loses time each day so I have to be careful) and dirt cheap Timex Weekender for the season in which it rains.

Then, when my father died, I inherited the Omega Seamaster 120m Calypso he’d inherited from my grandfather when he died (which is kind of odd, since my dad actually gave my grandfather the watch so technically it was a repossession). The watch doesn’t work and the repair price would be large enough that it’s cheaper to buy a working version of the watch rather than have it repaired.

The Omega Seamaster on the left and the Seiko on the right. You can see  the big crack in it.

The Omega Seamaster on the left and the Seiko on the right. You can see the big crack in it.

I hang on to the old watches mostly because it’s extremely hard to get rid of sentimental things, even when they are junk. I also have a couple pocket knives like that (more on those in the future).

The other problem is how to get rid of them. Someone in the family might want the retirement watch but the band on the Omega is probably the only thing useful on that watch. Still, it’s connected to two important men in my life and I can’t just throw it away.

Or at least I tell myself that. In the end I’ll probably just give them away to some tinkerer who wants to play with them and might be able to make them work. That seems a better end than the trash bin, but that might just be an excuse to keep them around a little longer.

The new watches: the Timex Weekender on the left and the Seiko 5 on the right.

The new watches: the Timex Weekender on the left and the Seiko 5 (SNKE63k1)  on the right.



You Can’t Always Get What You Need

Note: this one my not be comfortable for the squeamish and/or those afraid of needles.

Well, the good news is the typhoon is slow and what rain there was hit Tokyo and not us. The bad news is I don’t have glasses. Sort of.

At long last, I headed off to the eye doctor’s today which meant braving the heat and humidity and then sweating on the paperwork I had to fill out. Because it was technical Japanese, I broke out my smartphone and used Google’s surprisingly handy Translate App which let me translate text by taking pictures of it.

I was a little annoyed as I’ve been to this doctor a few times before for eye checks and to have needles stuck in my right eyeball  to drain blood when I got a subconjunctival hemorrhage after karate. (Note: link not safe for lunch.) I’d even remembered my information card which should have made most of the form irrelevant.


I then got to wait half an hour for five other people to finish.  When it was my turn I kept trying to explain to the doctor that I’m pretty sure I need real glasses as I’m pretty sure my eyes aren’t evenly farsighted. The doctor sat me down and put me through a series of tests in his darkened laboratory.

Note: this is an old building with lots of older looking equipment including a couple boxes with light beams that remind me of the “Voight-Kampff” Empathy test. There’s also a doll hung by the neck from the ceiling that you’re supposed to look at when he does one of his tests. (Remember, this man once stuck needles in my right eyeball.)

The determinations were: 1) I’ve got a small cataract in one eye that’s normal for my age; 2) I’ve got presbyopia, which sounds more impressive than “trying to see as old men do” vision which is more poetic than “Old Man’s Eyes”; and 3) I should get some real eyeglasses and not just the over-the-counter reading glasses I’ve been using. I repeated that getting real eyeglasses was my goal for visiting the office and he sent me out to the waiting room to, well, wait.

A few minutes later, the cute receptionist gave my my bill, my change and a friendly “have a nice day”. What she didn’t give me was a prescription for eyeglasses or any information that would help me get them.

I returned home and told She Who Must Be Obeyed about what had happened (leaving out the part about the receptionist being cute, of course because nothing positive could be gained by mentioning it–also remember, I’m not seeing clearly). SWMBO called the clinic for clarification and was told something along the lines of I didn’t get a prescription because the doctor somehow used the store under his office (his office is on the second floor USA; first floor UK) and that they were expensive.

So, if I’m understanding this, the doctor didn’t take a chance for a kickback because, well, I’m still not sure and that’s more important than me getting a prescription for glasses. (Something like that.)

Now, I’ll try going to an eyeglasses store and see if they can fix me up. If they can’t, I’ll have to get a second opinion.

I Do What I Do They Do What I Say

The only good thing about being trapped at home is I have the girls doing dishes.

This is attributed to a difference in style between me and She Who Must Be Obeyed. Because SWMBO is a native Japanese she ends up complaining a lot about the girls lack of initiative. In other words, rather than telling the girls to do something she complains that they haven’t done it, hoping the suggestion and the shaming will lead to action. Some of this is cultural. The Japanese don’t like direct confrontation which leads to a lot of suggestions and complaints rather than a lot of “get your ass to the sink and do disheses”.

However, since my daughters are biracial they inherited a certain amount of sass and backtalk and stubborness from two different national gene pools. This leads to long arguments with SWMBO that end when I officially “lose my shit” at the circular and noisy nature of the argument going on next to me.

I have tried to encourage SWMBO not to take the bait when the girls are backtalking and to instead stay on message. Translation: Tell them”Stop talking to me that way and go do XYZ”. This has led our oldest to try a “What? What did I say?” strategy.

However, with me at home during the day, I’ve got our youngest washing breakfast dishes and our oldest hanging laundry in the morning and washing supper dishes at night. (Note: She has to do the latter for five more weeks because of something she did a couple weeks ago. I don’t actually remember what she did but I do remember that sass back talk and stubborness led her to try to call my bluff and that made four weeks into six weeks.)

In short, I dared our oldest to backtalk me and she did. She hasn’t done it since, though.


The Best Laid Plans Waylaid by the Way Side

Well, it was a good plan. It just didn’t account for the thing I knew was going to happen.

A month or so ago I had a health check and when the results came back they were mostly positive. My cholesterol is good as is my general health. They only glitch was my eyesight which has become increasingly farsighted. The results of the eye test prompted me to decide it was time to get some real glasses and not just the over the counter reading glasses I’ve been using.

With school now finished and only busy “work” left to do, I made plans to go to the eye doctor today and get started on the inevitable “do these frames make my butt look fat?” (something like that) eye-glasses process. I even mentioned this plan to She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Imagine my surprise then when, this morning, as I made ready to get ready, SWMBO announced she had to eat because she was going to work. I repeated my plan to her and was informed that she’d scheduled work every day this week, except, I think Friday. (Note: as my rage builds my ability to listen gets worse. It runs in the family.) Part of the rage was that this exact situation has happened before which is why I’d mentioned my plans early on and even included a couple other plans. After all, it was only my eyesight.

It turns out I was stuck babysitting our youngest in the morning. SWMBO assured me, though, I could go in the afternoon once she got back from work. I huffed and swore under my breath but adjusted my plan from “go take care of my eyes” to “sit at home and do very little and make no plans to go out”. As I figured, by the time SWMBO returned it was too late to go and get a place in line at the eye doctor’s office.

My best bet now, if I heard her right, is Friday, about the time the typhoon is scheduled to hit the main island.


Holidays Ain’t What They Used To Be

The productive part of my summer holiday usually doesn’t start until I’ve disgusted myself with how unproductive I am. Unfortunately the company I work for has complicated that.

For reasons too complicated to go into (bureaucratic rock pissing) I no longer have my summers to myself. In the old days, once school was finished and a few days of overflow were completed, I was set free for a several weeks. Luckily, I was still paid because the school where I work wanted all teachers well rested and continued to pay the company I work for even though we weren’t actually working. I would use this time to spend three or four weeks back in the USA.

Then, a few years ago, the company I work for decided that they were totally the boss of me and that if I wanted to get paid in the summers the way I had been paid for 12 years, I would have to start “working” during the summer and on any day I wasn’t actually assigned to the school. This “work” amounted to producing some kind of lesson (officially over six hours of work) and sending it in via email. Mission accomplished.

If I don’t want to have to do any busy work, or want to go back to the USA or want to have an actual vacation, I have to use paid holidays. (This, I suspect, is part of what this nonsense is all about: when teachers leave, they can get compensation for their unused holidays.)

I should also point out that up to ten days of unused leave carries over to the next year. Any more than that drops off. This means I have 30 days of paid holidays per year. The paid holidays are complicated by the company being able to assign up to 10 days. (Note: they do this based on a Clintonian meaning of “is” is interpretation of the law.)

In the past, because I got summers off, I would just let ten days be lost and start over with a fresh 30 days. Now, though, I’ve started to use 10 of those days to save me from having to do busy work.

That said, all the busy work does is give me the illusion of being productive. I still sit with lots of half-finished projects mocking me from their “project piles”. Eventually, I get tired of staring back at them and start doing something about finishing them. If it’s a writing project, for example, I take the radical step of actually writing it.

But first I have to do my busy work. it doesn’t take much energy. It just drains the spirit a bit and lets me ignore the project piles a while longer.