Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Surprisingly fun

I try not to say anything overly negative about work, but I've got to admit that I've had difficulty adjusting to the change in staff at my base school in April. (In Japan, teachers get shuffled around for the beginning of the new school year--and for the most part the teachers don't have much say in where they're moved.)

The teachers that I talked to the most and was friendliest with were pretty much all transferred, and the atmosphere in the teachers' room totally changed.

But yeah, given my general sense of unease at my base school this entire semester, I wasn't really expecting to enjoy the bowling and enkai (dinner & drinking party) today--the end of the first semester.

Yet somehow, I ended up having a surprisingly good time. With the bowling, well, getting a decent score definitely helped me get into things. My first game was 117 (my 2nd time breaking 100!), but I went downhill from there and only got 87 in the second game. Still, my final (combined) score for the two games was a very respectable (for me, anyway!) 204!

Plus our team was the only one that managed to win beer! Basically the "beer frame" rule was that if a team got all spares and/or strikes in a single frame, each player would get a can of beer. Since our team only had 3 people, we had specific frames (2,4,6 & 8) in which we were eligible to win beer, whereas the 4-people teams could get beer in any of the first nine frames.

Thankfully I was first, so I had decidedly less pressure to perform than my teammates. (Last year I was last in the order, and blew the beer frame by 2 or 3 pins!)

I also got to see an impressive site: one of the teachers in the lane next to ours got four strikes in a row! (I knew 3 strikes in a row was called a "turkey" but who knew that 4 in a row is called "ham bones" or a "4-bagger"?!) So yeah, the bowling was a lot more fun than I expected.

The enkai, too, was better than I thought it'd be. I actually managed to talk/join in the conversations a fair bit, and the food was plentiful and quite good.

All in all, it was a good end to what felt like a horrendously long semester.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Investing in quality

I'm not really one to spend a lot of money on clothes, but I seem to lose my usual thriftiness when it comes to yukata (Japanese summer cotton kimonos).

The summer I first arrived, I bought one on sale for about 7000 yen (~$70) including the obi (sash), and tying sashes. The next summer I bought one that cost about 20,000 yen (~$200) for just the yukata. This summer I've just placed an order for one that costs 20,000 yen for the fabric alone and another 10,000 yen for making it (~$300 total).

At first I thought I'd go to Uniqlo or Jusco to get a cheap (mass-produced) one, but then I remembered that a friend had told me that her husband had a kimono shop. (I met her doing taiko at the Towada Aki Matsuri (Towada Fall Festival) and I'd gone over to her house once for tea.) So I decided I'd drop by and check it out.

When I got to the store, though, I was too intimidated to enter because it looked kind of upscale/higher class. I stood in front of the store for a while (peering into the window) before heading back to my car to leave. Just as I was going to get into my car, however, my friend pulled into the parking lot, and (when I explained that I hadn't actually gone into the shop) she invited me to go in with her.

Once inside, she explained to her husband that I was looking for a yukata, and I was shown upstairs. Upstairs they laid out a bunch of different fabrics for me to look at (I had explained that I was looking for something in a darker colour) , and I eventually settled on a black one with a silver pattern.

All the while we were chatting about various things--work, taiko, their daughter (whom I'd just taught on Friday during my elementary school visit), Canada, etc. Since they didn't have any silver obi on hand, they made arrangements to order a couple for me to take a look at. (They told me they'd get in touch once the obi came in and so I could come in to take a look and to also bring in one of my other yukata which they could use to take measurements for the new one.)

Looking back at the experience, I believe that even though I've once again ended up spending more than I'd intended on a yukata, it was a worthwhile investment of both my time and money. I mean, if I'd gone with a ready-made yukata from a big chain store I could've walked in and walked back out with my purchase within 20-30 minutes, and it probably would've been 1/5 of the price.

But by going to a local shop, I was able to build (upon) a relationship in the community. And I was able to get a yukata more unique and probably better-crafted than any
thing I could purchase in a store from off the hanger. Not to mention I got some ideas from my friend on how to tie the obi to make myself look more "chalet" (stylish)! =P

Guess it's just all part and parcel with my recent efforts to "go local". Consciously investing in local products and businesses has definitely required a greater investment of money and time on my part, but I think I value and appreciate my purchases a lot more than before, too.

(Yukata #1 and #2! I'll definitely post a picture of the newest yukata (#3) when it's finished!)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Superior customer service

The problem:

Hello. I just received my order #____ for Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trade paperback boxed set. Since I ordered it new and not used, I was rather disappointed to see that the box and the spine of one of the books were damaged.The tear on the book spine isn't too bad, but the damage to the box is quite unsightly, so I was wondering if it's possible to exchange the set for another (undamaged) one? (Since I'm currently living in Japan, though, I was wondering how the return shipping would work?) Thank you for your time.

The astonishing solution:

Thank you for contacting us about your order. I am very sorry to hear that your set was damaged in transit. I have gone ahead and ordered another set form our new book supplier. They will be shipping this new item to you using international priority shipping. You should receive this package within the next 5-14 business days. I apologize for any inconvenience this delay may cause.

Please do not worry about returning the damaged set to us. If you have no use for them, please consider donating them to a local charity, of finding a friend that may be interested in reading the books.

Please be sure to let us know if there's anything else that we can help you with. Have a great day!

Better World Books

After experiencing the endurance test that Air Canada calls customer service (see my 1/21 and 2/11 posts for full details), I was absolutely stunned by the reply to my email. If I hadn't already decided I would try to make most of my online book purchases through Better World Books, this would have definitely sold me completely on the store! So many stores/services offer a "100% satisfaction guarantee" but very few actually do! But Better World Books is being 100% truthful when they say "We have a very generous return policy."

It's incredible how one good amazing experience with true customer service can make you feel that much less jaded/cynical about businesses in general.


So, anyone interested in a cosmetically damaged (I'm really picky about my books when I buy them new) but otherwise perfectly good box set of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" (The Golden Compass) series? First come, first served! ^_^

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Please make 6 sentences about Canada Day"

"Please make 6 sentences about Canada Day" was on the lesson plan I received for my Sanbongi JHS ninensei (second year) visit tomorrow. When I spoke to the teacher today about the lesson plan, she was a little worried that I would have difficulty writing the sentences because Canada Day celebrations are different all across Canada.

While that's certainly true, the reason I was having difficulty coming up with 6 sentences was really that I didn't know very much myself about Canada/Canada Day!! If Allie hadn't mentioned it at our Canada Day dinner at Aaron's place, I wouldn't have even known that this year is Canada's 142nd birthday!

The five sentences (for a true-false quiz) I came up with initially were:

1. Canada Day is July first. (T)
2. We can see fireworks on Canada Day. (T)
3. This year, Canada is 200 years old. (F)
4. We often enjoy barbeques on Canada Day. (T)
5. We usually watch parades on Canada Day. (F)

After a bit of research, though, I found out that even though I've never seen a Canada Day parade, there are actually places that have them! So, after a bit more thought, I came up with the following:

5. We also call Canada Day "Independence Day." (F)
6. Many shops have big sales, so we go shopping on Canada Day. (F)

I wonder if American ALTs would have the same difficulty coming up with six sentences about Independence Day/the Fourth of July?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I HATE screwing up!


I can't believe how stupid I was! I got my lesson plan for Friday a week ago and looked at it numerous times but didn't notice until 11pm tonight that they scheduled me for a 6th period class when I'm supposed to leave right after lunch tomorrow!!! (All of the Towada BOE ALTs are heading off to Aomori for the JET Leavers' Party.)


I can't believe I screwed up so badly! I was even looking at the lesson plan at school today and still didn't clue in! What an idiot... Now I've got to gear myself up for apologizing profusely tomorrow...