7.18.2007

Staff Room Dialogues

Today there was a big school-wide sports thing in the gym. One of the sports was dodgeball. I heard this snippet of conversation between two teachers:

A: What ball are we using for dodgeball?
B: I thought the volleyball would be fine.
A: Won't that hurt?
B: Yeah, but I think it's okay.

Then a few minutes after the dodgeball gets underway a different teacher comes running into the staffroom:

A: Tissue...I need a tissue!
B: Did someone get a nosebleed?
A: No, it's a chronic nosebleed.*
B: Oh, well that's good.

I mean I guess so. I guess it's good.

*(Note: The Japanese here is hard to translate...it really doesn't sound as dire as "chronic"...but the speaker was trying to imply that it wasn't caused by volleyball.)

7.11.2007

We Heard You Were A Librarian, So We Put A Barcode Reader On It

Here is a link to some library workers who pimped their carts as part of a contest. I miss working in the library. It was the easiest and most fun job I've ever had.

[via BoingBoing]

Why Console Video Games Aren't Fun Anymore

Following on the heels of the new CEO of EA and on the eve of E3 I wanted to say a few things about video games.

Firstly, John Riccitiello is right. I am damned tired of sequels...I'm tired of Madden 200X and Metal Gear Solid X, etc. Yeah, those games were good in their initial inception, and they were good when re-invented for newer technology, but no amount of amazing graphics or "more challenging" gameplay is going to make me be really satisfied with essentially playing the same game again. If I want to do that then I will play the exact same game over again, and it'll probably be Final Fantasy Tactics.

You see what Sony and Microsoft can't get right is that only a small fraction of gamers play for that "next gen" experience. They're middle-aged guys with bank accounts and fratboys who want to impress their friends. Though it is much hyped and much criticized, the average gamer could care less about the differences in graphical capabilities from PS2 to PS3. What your average, classic gamer cares about is having the most fun for their buck...not how real it looks when they beat the crap out of a hooker.

Console video games used to be directed at kids, and while I think the realization that adults play them too was a huge one I don't think it helped gamers. This is because the game makers decided they could start charging whatever the hell they wanted for the their products. $500 for a console...sure, why not? $50-60 per game...go ahead! Our target market has the money to spare! This was a huge mistake.

As anyone with half a brain can see from the sales figures; the company that does the best in moving product is Nintendo. This is because Nintendo has come to terms with the fact that people want FUN video games, not more expensive, flashy ones. And parents sure aren't going to buy the $500 system where you can play the game about killing people over the $120 one where you can play a game about making friends with animals.

Kids and real video game fans are looking for that new experience, that new feeling of freedom and exploration you get when you play a game with a truly novel idea. And, yes, they're looking for Pokemon...but that's another story. In Japan the current crop of "kyouiku" or educational games is flourishing...and guess what? They're all on DS. They're fun quiz games and brain teasers that you can play with the whole family. They're not Halo 3. And none of them cost over $40.

7.10.2007

CHESS 2007

The First Day
So about a month ago (I know, I'm lazy) I was fortunate enough to participate in CHESS 2007. CHESS is a 3-day English camp for high school students that has been held in Shimane for many, many years. This year's CHESS theme was Pirates of the Carribean, and with Captain Titia and First Mate Donna, I joined the crew of the Green Emerald in search of lost treasure.
First Group Meeting
Our ship was also crewed by eight wonderful young Japanese people. They were a little shy at first, but they were certainly a joy to be around. By the end of the event, however, they had opened up and begun speaking so much English that we couldn't shut them up if we wanted to. It was truly an amazing transformation. Japanese education is dominated by repetative tasks, ceremony, and useless rote learning...but the CHESS camp offered these students a chance to be creative, think on the fly, and to really express themselves.
Donna Gives Acting Pointers
Each group had to create a group flag, a group cheer, a group dance, a treasure map, pirate costumes and props, along with a seven minute skit, in English. In the skit the pirate crew had to use the map to find buried treasure, while challenging a monster who gave them a riddle to solve. All the groups did a really great job. Here's the video of our group's skit, sorry for the low-quality audio:

However, I think nothing can illustrate the transformative power of CHESS more than the dance that was held on the second night. You have to understand that these kids (already in high school) had never been introduced to a proper boy/girl dance in their entire lives. The whole thing was only about two hours long, but the kids came out of their shells and were partying with the best of them. There was a smile on every face and sweat on every brow as the kids got their collective groove on.
The Dance!
One girl, the best English speaker in our group and certainly one of the more outgoing students there, couldn't stop herself from crying later in the night after the dance. I sat and talked with her and she told me (in English mind you) how she didn't want to go home, she didn't want it to end. You see, many of the kids who come to CHESS are the ones who don't necessarily fit into the Japanese way of doing things...hence their interest in a foreign language. Many of them are probably not with the "in" crowd in their school, but at CHESS they were among friends from all over the prefecture for three whole days...and you can really tell how much it means to them.
The Monsters
Also, I was lucky enough to get to see a former student of mine, Fumie. Fumie was crucial to me actually enjoying the JET Program in my first year, and with her gone school is a lot less fun for me. However seeing her over CHESS, seeing how much more confident she has become in her English (she was always confident) just made me stand in awe of what a clever, amazing and brave little woman she is. I was so proud of her.
Fumi and Me
So yeah, CHESS was an amazing experience for the kids, but it was also an amazing experience for me. All to often the monotony of my daily job can dig me into a hole where I feel like I'm not making a difference over here, but it's things like CHESS that catapult me right back out and make me want to try harder and be the best ALT that I can be.
Group Photo, Last Day
See the rest of the photos here.

Good Bloggin'

I find myself less than motivated to do any actual blogging. Instead, here are some links to interesting stuff:

Atheists and Doubters - No More Mr. Nice Guy

It's A Grand Old Flag - The Greenbelt

How To Make A Weapon Out Of A Newspaper - Boing Boing

Robot Soccer On A Grain Of Rice - OhGizmo!

An Interview With William Gibson - College Crier

Behind The Counter (A Humorous Blog Helmed By A Wal-Mart Employee)

I've been meaning to actually post something about Japan. I have a bunch of pictures to upload from an English camp for high schoolers that I went to about a month ago. It was a great experience and I'll get to writing about it soon.

Take care.

7.04.2007

I Can't Help Where I Was Born

Since I've made two posts, why not a third. Plus by now it should be 7/4/07 in America. Good morning everyone.

Today is Independence Day in the United States. It's a day to celebrate our state, and most importantly the simple document that set into motion the events out of which it would rise. All throughout my life it has been a day for fun, for food, for friends, and for family. Today, as I'm writing this from Middle-of-Nowhere, Japan, July 4th is nothing but depressing. I am so tired and so sad. America has lost all meaning to me.

Now I'm not trying to be too dramatic. America is still my home, it's still a place on a map, it's still where all my friends and family reside. But the funny thing about being abroad for nearly a year is that I've learned to divorce the people in my life from the places in my life. I've learned that "where" is never important, only "who."

I used to really like America, and in a lot of ways I still do. For instance I'd take America over Japan any day of the week...I find homogeny to be extremely tedious, and that has been one of the harshest lessons in moving to Japan. However, thinking of America as an idea, as something to be patriotic about, I find it to be totally impossible.

My country has been hijacked by terrorists. By theives and liars and murderers and criminals and ego-maniacs and crazy people. The events of September 11th, 2001 pale in comparison to the systematic campaign of terror our own government has waged against us since that awful day, and the failed conflicts it has inflicted overseas in both Afghanistan and Iraq. I can no longer be proud to be "American" because that word (and you'll learn this if you live abroad) is synonymous with "bully" and "fanatic" and "moron."

I know I have to go back eventually. In fact, I'll be home in just over a month. I'm definitely looking forward to being in a place...to visiting with people. My heart aches for home. But "America?" I can't think about that anymore.

It just makes me sick.

7.03.2007

Following Up

Following up on my last post, in which I was getting pretty down about America, here's a video that's a must watch. Seriously, it will take about 20 minutes, but it will truly be worth it.

James Howard Kunstler talks about the blight we in the US like to call "Suburbia" and how it needs to be changed to not only save our collective sanity, but to better prepare us for the coming energy crisis. He is very blunt and I personally think it helps his message greatly. People need to wake up and realize that the Wal-Mart, SUV, McHouse, suburban, irresponisble-spending, me-me-me, paranoid, consumer culture is destroying America and has been since the Second World War.

Please please watch this video.