Sunday, August 31, 2008


A lot of people seem to overestimate my Japanese ability. I'm not sure how that came to be since when asked I'm always honest and say that my Japanese is still very broken. Seriously. My kanji reading ability is probably at the early elementary school level (i.e. not even fifth or sixth grade) and my vocabulary is pathetically limited (although I do know a lot of grammar terms). Not to mention, even when I know the words, I usually can't remember which tense to use or how to conjugate the words properly.

In short, my reading and speaking ability are still at the basic level.

My listening, though, has improved significantly from when I first arrived. But even then, I still only understand about 50% (at most) of what I hear--remember the vocabulary problem.

The reason I think people overestimate me is that I'm fairly good at guessing what's being said from the context, and I'm also decent at reading the subtext of a conversation. I was thinking about it on the way home from the PTA trip to the Morioka Handicraft Village yesterday (a lot of fun, by the way--expect pictures soonish) and I realized that I could follow other people's conversations but had difficulty answering some of the questions put to me. See, a lot of the time people just ask you questions out of the blue, or, if you're already in a conversation, they might ask digressive questions, so it's a lot harder to guess from the context than if simply listening to a conversation.

So yeah, basically my actual Japanese comprehension is average or below-average, but my guessing skills give the impression that I understand more Japanese than I actually do.

It's bad because now I need to study for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) that I signed up to take in December and I've got a heckload of lot of stuff to learn/re-learn. Maybe if I hadn't been able to get through so much just by using context, I would've had more motivation to start studying earlier (like, last year)?

Besides, it's embarrassing to be asked all sorts of vocabulary/kanji questions that I really don't know the answer to but people seem to think I will... ^^;;

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Unfair Judging

I was (and still am) really upset by the judging for the local speech contest. It wasn't anyone's fault, really, but due to various reasons, I truly feel that my third year student was robbed of a prize medal in the contest.

Of course I was naturally biased in her favour since I spent so much time coaching her and she's my favourite student in the school to boot, but even taking that out I can honestly say she deserved no less than third place (and probably should've gotten second).

Out of all the students, her enunciation and pronunciation were the clearest, and her intonation, pacing and stressing were the most natural (although of course there was still a lot of room for improvement).

Since she's a more soft-spoken student, her delivery wasn't as loud as other students', but considering that the topic of her recitation was Hiroshima, I thought she was appropriately restrained.

And again, although I was biased, I obviously wasn't completely off the mark since Allie ranked her second and Bryan (who wasn't judging but watching) also said he thought she was one of the best ones.

It kills me that even though Allie and I had her ranked, respectively, second and first, she didn't even get third place because the two Japanese judges ranked her sixth. Also, because Allie and I awarded fewer points overall (and the prize rankings were based on overall points rather than ordinal rankings), the rankings were skewed in favour of the Japanese judges.

Again, I'm not blaming the Japanese judges--coming from a different culture, they naturally look for and emphasize different things in their judging--I'm just frustrated that the system wasn't designed to mitigate/compensate for inconsistencies in judging. (And honestly, I made quite a few mistakes in my own judging; in more than one instance I awarded far fewer points than I should have.)

Also I'm a little mad that I was so careful about showing favouritism towards my students that I gave my (third grade) student a far lower mark for pronunciation than I felt she actually deserved. If I had said "To heck with this!" and given her the 50/60 I felt she deserved (instead of something in around 40), that might've been enough to compensate for low rankings from the Japanese judges. (In one of the other grades, the third prize was awarded to the student ranked sixth, sixth, and fourth (or maybe fifth?) by three of the four judges simply because one judge skewed the results by rewarding 51 points for pronunciation!)

What makes it all the worse is that the student herself thought she would get at least third, and she's really humble and in fact usually underestimates her own abilities! When I talked to my JTE today, she told me that she spent several hours after school consoling this student.

It's really heartbreaking. I'm usually pretty decent at letting things go (because obviously dwelling on things doesn't change the past) but more than 24 hours I'm still seething at the injustice of it all.

So I sent an email to my supervisor today to make the suggestion that the speech contest prize rankings should be decided first by ordinal ranking and second (in the case of a tie) by total points. I'm sure there are problems inherent in this method of judging as well, but it seems to me that this would help to negate anamolies in judging (like if I ended up giving everyone low/close scores because the person I thought was the best really deserved 70 but I only gave him/her 60) and allow each judge's ranking to carry equal weight. (Maybe my logic is wrong, but I feel that the overall rankings were skewed in favour of the judges who awarded points with greater disparities between the scores.)

Of course it won't help my student (or me, or my JTE) to feel any better about this speech contest, but if my suggestion ends up being adopted, at least I could hope to avoid this feeling of a student being robbed next year.

(Maybe I'm just justifying myself, but I don't think all of my frustration comes from my student getting shafted. I was also upset when the student I didn't feel was the best choice for third place ended up getting it because of a judging error/inconsistency. And I don't mean to detract from the students who were actually awarded prizes, either, because, I mean, I know all of the students worked really hard to prepare for the contest.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Once more, into the fray

It's less than a week (two days, to be precise) into the new term and I'm already exhausted.

Monday Allie and Aaron came with me to Kirita to see the new term opening ceremony. Since it was their first time to the school, we had to go in early so that they could be introduced to the staff during the teachers' meeting at 8:10 am. I know that doesn't really sound early, but considering that I'd driven on the weekend to and from the Omagari Fireworks Competition (Akita prefecture), I really could've used the extra 50 minutes of sleep (usually I go in at 9am).

For me it was a normal day at Kirita (we left at about 4:30pm), but it was probably a little tough for Allie and Aaron, since Allie never has to stay past 6th period (~3:30pm) and it was Aaron's first school visit. Then too, Mukainakano-sensei asked us to go into the office after Kirita to get our school visit schedule for second term. It (the schedule) wasn't actually done, but that was OK since we needed to get lesson plans anyway.

That wasn't the end of my day, though. After I drove Allie and Aaron home, I went back to Kirita to help students practice for the speech contest. I was there from about 5:45-6:30pm. Then I went straight to the Minami Kominkan for Monday eikaiwa.

Then today I was at school until about 6pm. I had just enough time to pick up dinner from Lawson's on the way home, eat, and drop off my yukata at the dry cleaner's before going to my Japanese dance class. After class I went grocery shopping (Sanbongi JHS didn't order lunch for me, so I have to make a bento for tomorrow) and then finally came home.

Tomorrow will be a bit better since I don't have to be at Sanbongi until 10:15am and will finish at 2:30pm, but since some of my students still need to work quite a bit on their speeches, I volunteered to go into Kirita after school (around 5pm) to help them. Then I'm guessing I'll probably go straight from Kirita to pick up Bryan for eikaiwa. @_@

I guess I can't/shouldn't complain since helping with speeches is voluntary (i.e. I'm making my own workload heavier) but I've got to say the timing of the speech contest kind of sucks since it overlaps with the start of taiko practice (for Aki Matsuri) and the ramping up of my Japanese dance classes (since I'm expected to perform in October even though I don't feel ready at all).

And even though I've been lucky in the sense that I've never suffered from jet lag, admittedly I didn't get much sleep while I was home in Canada (I stayed up late trying to catch up on a year's worth of manga plus normal novel reading) so it's not like I came into the start of the school term feeling particularly rested.

But I guess the biggest contributing factor to my fatigue is that I care too much about Kirita. I mean, if I wasn't willing to put in all the extra time for speech contest practice (not to mention attending all sorts of school events on my own time--weekends, after visits to other schools, etc.), I'd have more down time between school visits and my other obligations (eikaiwa, taiko practice, dance classes). I think I'm going to have to be a little more careful about overcommitting myself to Kirita things this year, otherwise I'm going to put myself in danger of burning out.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Good Points

So my fun (but eventful) trip home is over. I got back home last week on Wednesday around 10pm thanks to Allie picking me up from Misawa and saving me the expense and trouble of taking the ancient totetsu from Misawa-Towada (it's slower than driving, and there are no elevators/escalators to the platform, so it would've been a pain lugging my 51 lb suitcase up and down the stairs!).

Going home for 2.5 weeks and then coming back to Japan gave me a chance to notice/think about some of the differences in culture/way of doing things between Canada and Japan. So here are some of the good points I noticed about each country:

- allowed to make right turns at red lights
- menu choices/ability to make substitutions (e.g. house salad instead of caesar, etc.)
- cheap cost of produce ($2 for a 10-12 lb watermelon!)
- in a restaurant, everyone receives their food at the same time

- efficient airport (cleared customs and got my luggage in ~30 min!)
- tax included prices on everything
- no need to tip servers (I don't mind tipping, I just hate having to do the math all the time!)
- (mostly) punctual train (and other forms of public transportation) service

I'm sure there are more, but I'm too tired right now to think of/write any more.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Eventful Return

Well, it's been an... eventful... return in both good ways and bad ways.

The good?

I've been able to spend time with a lot of friends and family. Friday night when I came back I immediately called Ceci and she, Vicki and I all went out to Tim Horton's to hang out. Saturday I got my license renewed and went shopping with my mom and Diana. Sunday was breakfast at Cora's with Ceci and Vicki; church; a little shopping with Ceci and Vicki; a late lunch with Ceci, Vicki and Joeie; then playing Cooking Mama and watching Kiki's Delivery Service with Jen, Ceci and Vicki at night. Monday to Friday was WAY Camp.

Even though (or maybe because) there were fewer kids than usual, it was a lot of fun. I was glad to see all (four) of the twelfth graders there, and it was good to meet some of the (soon to be in grade ten) niners. *sigh* Being back reminded me that I really do miss the WAY kids. Before I left there were times when I felt really drained by my commitment as a WAY counselor, and I wondered if I'd really re-join them if I stayed away for longer than a year, but now I think I'll still want to come back to the WAY when I'm back in Canada for good.

Anyway, Friday night (after getting back from camp), I went out to Cafe Hollywood with Jen, Ceci, Grace, Jon Tang, Benson, Joanna, Vince and Vivian (hope I'm not forgetting anyone!!). Saturday I went to the Woodlands Library (you have NO idea how much I've missed English books!) and EK (where I spent pretty much all of the money I got from my parents on manga). For dinner my parents and I met up with a family friend to have peking duck (yum)! Sunday was church (including Life Long Learning) and lunch with Bettina and Ken, Alan and Liz, Ivy, Brenda and Ceci. Then another Chinese dinner with family friends. I'd never actually met these family friends before, but my parents wanted me to meet them since the daughter will be a frosh at UT this September and is also interested in anime/manga.

So that was the good. The bad?

Well, the day after I came back (Saturday) before getting my license renewed and going shopping, I went to a viewing at church for a parent of some of my WAY kids (former and current). He had been sick for some time, so it wasn't a sudden or completely unexpected passing, but I'm sure that didn't make it any less painful for the family.

A less serious, but still not so great thing was the amount of rain we had at WAY camp. Certainly we were lucky that, with the exception of one day, the rain mostly came at times that didn't interfere with our schedule (at night, during Bible study, etc.), but that one day was pretty bad. Alan, Liz and I were out grocery shopping when it started, but it was still going strong when we got back to the camp site. The kids were real troopers and all pitched in to move flooded tents and to get wet stuff to a place it could dry, but it was still a pretty miserable day.

Even though Alice and I dried and moved our tent, it ended up getting wet again. On Wednesday night (Monday and Tuesday I went home with my dad after lights out and returned before 7am) I slept in the tent and woke up with a wet back in the morning! Alice was fine since she had a mattress thing so the water didn't get through her sleeping bag. Luckily Thursday was the all-nighter so I only spent that one night sleeping on a wet spot in our tent.

Today (Monday) was the "most bad" (yes, grammatically it should be "worst") day, though. I learned first hand the truth in the saying "haste makes waste." I had a doctor's appointment at 10am and even though I had enough time to make it, I was cutting it a little close so I was driving pretty fast. And wouldn't you know it, at the bottom of Mississauga Road (at The Collegeway) there were two police cars waiting for speeders.

Yes indeed, today I got my first ever speeding ticket. ^^;; I was lucky, though, because the cop was really nice about it. He gave me a reduced ticket (15 km/h over the limit, instead of the 20km/h I was actually clocked at) and he didn't give me an additional fine for not having the car registration in the car (it was in the car, but I couldn't find it). So even though having to pay $52 sucks, it could've been a lot worse: $120 and 3 points on my license. What makes me feel even more lucky is that I actually did see the cop cars before I crossed the intersection and managed to slow down some before they got me: I was actually going 80km/h (30km/h over the speed limit) but had enough time to slow down to be clocked at 70km/h.

Anyway, I definitely learned my lesson. I mean, I would've been on time and saved myself $52 if I'd left a little earlier, or if I'd even just been feeling less rushed and driven at the speed limit. Indeed, "haste makes waste."

The other bad news for today was that my dentist discovered a cavity when I went for my cleaning!! How sad is it to still be getting cavities at my age?! To be fair to myself, though, at the last check-up before I left my dentist did say there was a tooth with potential to develop a cavity, so it wasn't a completely new development. (Although I guess it doesn't say much about my tooth brushing since I knew about it but didn't manage to prevent it.) So now I have to go back on Monday for a filling. And of course I don't have any insurance to cover dental expenses, so I'm going to have to pay for it on top of the cleaning. @_@

Oh well. I guess I'll just have to be more diligent about my brushing from now on--and maybe lay off the sweets a bit.

Actually, I almost forgot, but there is some good news from today (so I can end on a positive note). At my check-up, I learned that I've actually lost about 14 lb since last year! I knew that I'd lost about 4-6 lb when I was moving into my apartment in May, but I didn't realize I'd lost more before that! Guess that explains why everyone was like "Did you lose weight?" I really couldn't understand why a mere loss of 4-6 lb was so noticeable to everyone... Another good thing is that the problem I had last year with my feet swelling seems to be pretty over. I wonder if it's another benefit from my healthier, less processed food diet in Japan?

But yeah, I've still got one more week at home, so I hope I won't have anymore unfortunate surprises and can enjoy meeting up with everyone I haven't had a chance to see yet.