Dan and I have come to the conclusion that the North-West Passage -- the famed all underground route linking Yodabashi Camera B1 level to the JR Kitashinshi Station – does not exist. We are so close, but the Umeda Subway Station blocks our path. There is no way to walk around the station underground, and you cannot walk through it without a ticket. The way is blocked. On one side of the station the B1 level of JR Osaka Station, on the other the B1 level of Yodabashi Camera! Standing on the Osaka Station side of the subway station, you can occasionally catch the whisper or the faint scent of the electronic goodness contained in Yodabashi. Forever blocked by the imposing Umeda Subway Station. It would now strongly appear that North-West Passage does not exist.
While at Yodabashi Camera, I picked up a pair of noise canceling headphones. I had tried a Bose pair at Jeff’s house one LAN party. Due to the “world just fading away” I was more dominant than usual. David and Jeff soon took the headphones away from me, knowing I was too dangerous with them. The minor distractions of ambient noise were the only thing keeping my primal video game rage in check. When that distraction was removed, my character was not so much “Gorden Freeman” but an unstoppable avatar of the gamer god of fragging. They removed the headphones and, consequently, I would only win by 10 kills instead of clean sweeping them both. Since then, I have wanted a pair of noise canceling headphones. The Bose headphones are great but kind of clunky and big. I went on C-Net and read reviews, I ended up getting a Sennheiser PXC300 pair because they got a slightly higher review than the Bose. They sacrifice a bit of bass and overall performance for far more portable. It was a trade off I was willing to make due in large part to my frequent trips where packing is a major issue. Because it is Yodabashi Camera I even got to try a display model out prior to buying them, which is nice to know they work given their price! I am very impressed. I do not know if they will replace my primary headphones on short trips (they are still a bit large), but they will definitely be making trans-Pacific and shinkansen journeys a lot quieter.
Anti-sound technology is one of those obvious things that you wonder why someone didn’t put into “practical” use sooner. All it takes is a device that functions like an oscilloscope and produces a valley in the sound wave entering your ear when the device detects a peak, and vice versa. It is remarkable that the technology is only a couple of years old commercially. “Noise” reduction using similar processes has been used in the lab for several decades. Chalk another victory up for the silicon revolution I guess.
One of the more disturbing things to happen to me occurred last week. It was between classes and I was in a first grade class talking with the kids. Suddenly a third grader came in grabbed a boy by the hair and repeated slammed his head into the blackboard. The third grader is just under my size, the first grader was as tall as him but very gangly. I was really shocked. I told him to stop repeatedly and he did not. I had no idea what to do. As a teacher I am morally required, but not necessarily contractually required, to protect my students. That is the problem. JETs are not trained to discipline or handle things like this because it is not part of our contract. I do not mean to make excuses. I had no idea what I should do. So I just tried to calm the attacker down because I was very afraid if I yelled or became more physically active the situation would elevate. Looking back I can think of a dozen things I could have done: including putting my hand between the kid’s head and the blackboard to take the brunt of the attack myself. The attackers elbow was pointed towards me, and at one point I strongly considered hitting it as hard as I could straight on to get him to stop. But I really didn’t do anything. I stood there and told him to stop. I have rarely felt so impotent, particularly in retrospect. The boy was not hurt. He cried a little, got an ice pack, and was back in class in about ten minutes, but his injuries (or lack there of) are not the point. I simply didn’t know what to do. That upsets me, a great deal. I am doubly aggravated by the fact that the attacker was back in the halls by next period. He viciously attacked a student and was smiling, laughing, and enjoying the fact that he was yelled at 50 minutes later. The Japanese educational system has no teeth, and it suffers considerably. There is something tragically wrong with the system when bullies are allowed to do things like this.
Enough gloom. A nice thing on the horizon is Flora’s birthday is coming up (October 10th). A great thing about Japan is that you get very good airfare around your birthday for yourself and three other people. Flora is taking advantage of that fact. She is going to Okinawa and sent out an email to everyone asking if they wanted to go. I responded fourth, behind Damien’s girlfriend. Luckily (for me) she couldn’t make it, so now I am going to Okinawa in her place. It should be loads of fun. I have to take two days of paid vacation, but I am getting five days of Okinawa fun. I leave October 5th and return October 10th. It should be fun, I am going with Flora, Chris, and Damien. With my birthday not to far off as well (November 19th) I am going to look into a trip, maybe Sapporo. We will see.
Shock & Awe
Sometimes my kids can be amazingly ignorant of the world. It is probably a Middle School thing, or, in my more pessimistic moments, a human being thing. But man can my kids be silly. The kids were really sweet about Hurricane Katrina and often asked if my family was okay. That is uber kind, and I greatly appreciated it. I was talking about it one day and said that America is very big. Some of the kids were surprised by this. I said America was bigger than Japan, many of my students were shocked(!) which shocked me! Haven’t they ever seen a map? I mean the Peterson Projection is not flawless, but America is pretty darn big and Japan is pretty darn small. I explained that Honshu (the main island of Japan) is about the same size as California. The Great Lakes have a larger surface area than Japan. I said that traveling non-stop it would take probably about 4-5 days to drive across the country. It would take about 1 or 2 days to drive to New Orleans from Alliance none stop. The kids were completely blown away. I can understand that when you apply real figures that they can understand (like days rather than meters), the size becomes more “real.” But how could they be shocked that Japan was SMALLER than the US? If they want to be shocked here is something shocking: Japan is a country about the size of California with 1/3 of the US’s population (about 130 million people). Now THAT is shocking. They were right to be shocked about the size, but they were shocked for the wrong reason.
Another story of shock is that my students are shocked I type things in English. Today I only had one class so I brought my computer in. They like to watch me type, because I am “fast.” In actuality I am mildly quick with acceptable accuracy. But my students are amazed, particularly when I am looking at them and typing. That trick dazzles here. Anyway one student asked what I was doing and I said, “Writing an e-mail to my friend.” She said, “WORK TIME NOW! YOU WORK NOW! NO FRIEND! WORK TIME NOW!” She is one of my favorite students, she is on my cleaning crew. I told her I had no work to do, and she said. “Okay, you are very good.” And then she just walked away.