Sunday, October 31, 2010

Grossest Ripoff Ever

I don't even want to tell you how long I spent making flash cards to study for the GRE. It seems that the bulk of my studying will be vocabulary. Since there is no way for me to learn all 3,500 words from the super vocabulary list in my study book in a month, I decided to just make flash cards for the 333 "GRE High-Frequency Words" list.

I know that the GRE is a scam because of the sample questions in my study book. Here is an example of one of these questions. You're supposed to choose the correct antonym to the word in capital letters.

(A) overturn
(B) be upright
(C) lie flat
(D) fall forward
(E) veer from side to side

Obviously, the answer is B. Because "list" has a secondary meaning. According to the book, "When it lists to starboard, a ship simply leans to one side or tilts."

Oh good. I guess that "Maritime Terminology" class I took will finally come in handy. How am I supposed to know this stuff? The GRE also has questions with words from all kinds of random sciences and special fields of study. What kind of undergraduate degree do these test makers think I got? A B.A. in Everything? A B.A. in Random Terminology? The list question might not seem that ridiculous to you, but there was also a sample question that made use of the secondary meaning of the word nice, which is just stupid.

I appreciate that the writers of the book are at least being honest with me. They don`t pretend that the test isn`t ridiculously hard.

If I hadn`t bothered to buy this book off the Internet, I would not do well on the GRE at all. I don`t think the majority of people who have an undergraduate degree would do well on it without the help of at least one study book. That is why this test is a scam. If it were really testing me on knowledge that I gained from college, then why would I have to cram for an entire month just to pass the verbal part? Why isn`t my college diploma enough for a graduate school to accept me?

I don`t think that I should be punished for not knowing the opposite of perfidy or what the hell philately is. I can write papers and do basic math. There will never be a situation in my life in which I can`t use a dictionary to help me figure out the meaning of a difficult word. They even allow dictionaries in prison. And I will probably never use the word loquacious in a sentence.

At least the SAT only cost $30. The GRE is almost $200, and if you screw up at all when you sign in for the test, they can turn you away and not refund your registration fee.

So I have decided not to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year. I am sad about it, but I know that it will only cause me more stress if I tried to do that and prepare for this test from hell. I know that my GRE score won`t matter nearly as much as my writing sample for getting into an MFA program, but I`m not paying $200 to do awful. I won`t give the testmakers that satisfaction.

Monday, October 25, 2010

the next goal

I think my goal for the month of November is to spend less than 30 minutes a day on the Internet. I could still write blog posts while offline and upload them later.

I sometimes wonder how much more productive my life would be if the Internet had never been invented. I know that some things, like researching, would take a lot longer than they do with the help of the worldwide web, but overall, I think the Internet uses up more of my time than it should.

I spend countless hours a month on the Internet--looking up weird articles, watching conspiracy theory documentaries, stalking people on social networking sites, and reading trivia on IMDB. And that`s not including time spent playing Textwist.

The Internet is the ultimate useful tool and timewaster. It allows us to access information at ridiculously fast speeds, but it also allows us unlimited access to that information--which means that we can go into a proverbial rabbit hole and not realize it until we`ve been staring at a screen for four hours straight.

I`m ashamed of the amount of time that I spend logged into Facebook. I think my homesickness makes me do it. There`s also that weird voyeuristic part of me that likes to watch other people`s lives unfold. I guess social networking sites are the closest that I`ve come to watching reality TV shows.

I can`t limit my time on a computer because I need it to write and edit. But I can spend more time in the real world, where the air is getting colder and the mountains are covered in misty clouds and where people don`t give a shit what my profile picture or status is.

Oh yeah, and I guess it will be good for me to study for that ridiculously evil test called the GRE that I have to take on December 5. That`s a good reason to exist in the real world instead of the virtual one--or is it a good reason to escape?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

suwako marathon

I just ran a half-marathon. Well, "ran" is a strong word. I guess I should say that I jogged and lightly ran a half-marathon. In 2 hours and 30 minutes. The time limit to finish before they shot off the closing fireworks was 2 hours and 40 minutes. I am so shocked. The most I had ever run before was 35 or 40 minutes all at once. I figured that I would be crawling by the end. BUT I DIDN'T WALK OR GIVE UP OR ANYTHING (well, I walked for maybe 5 minutes of it all, here and there, when I drank water).

Something about being surrounded by other people, all sweating and pumping their arms and throwing paper cups of water and Pokari Sweat all over themselves just made me want to keep on. It was sort of like being on stage for a performance. Even after all those dress rehearsals, nothing can prepare you for the buzz that you get from the audience on opening night. You feed off of each other's energy. I finally understood what made people want to sign up for a half-marathon rather than just running by themselves.

My feet are covered in blisters and my skin was caked in salt from sweating so much. But I did it. It was fun in the way that surviving a fight with a vicious monster would be fun. Satisfying. Exhausting. Perhaps you are injured. You wonder how you could be crazy enough to want to try it again, but you think that you probably will one day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

something to chew on

It seems that the worst thing a Japanese student can do isn`t sleeping in class or ignoring the teacher. It`s not disrupting a chorus concert by laughing and talking loudly. It`s not even rubbing each other`s crotches or pinning each other to the floor and slapping each other across the face.

No, it seems that the worst thing a student at my school could possibly do is chew gum or eat candy. For some reason, this rule is held higher than all others--more punishable than violence or sexual harrassment. Everyone is in the gym for the second assembly of the day about this. These assemblies come at really weird times and throw off the entire day`s schedule. We had one this morning, which cut into class time, and just to be sure that the students get it, they are having another one.

Japanese people are extremely polite and nonconfrontational. I was shocked when, one morning, a teacher was screaming at two boys in the break room. It is terrifying to see an angry Japanese person since they are generally so mild mannered. When I realized that two hours had passed and he was still yelling at the boys, I asked an English teacher what they had done.

"Oh, they were chewing gum in front of some teachers from another school during the festival."

Previously this year, a boy kicked a girl so hard between the legs that she bled. I barely heard anything about his punishment; at most I think they called his parents. But these other boys, these terrible gum chewers, have surely disgraced all of Eimei Junior High. They have probably shamed their entire families and the city of Chino. Possibly even everyone in Japan is ashamed of their behavior.

Discipline is totally different here. Students are given 10 or 15 minutes between every class in which they can do anything they want, including molesting each other and wrestling. I don`t really know how their grading system works, but most assignments that are returned don`t appear to have "grades" as we know them. I think the students are only graded on how well they perform on exams. Exams for all classes are usually held on the same day. To get into a good high school, they must do well on an entrance exam.

I guess the Japanese believe that discipline should come from within, and that is why I see students routinely get away with behavior that would have them suspended in America. Maybe the lack of grades is the reason that so many kids don`t even pay attention in English class.

Another disturbing trend I`ve noticed is that parents in Japan typically don`t make their children wear seatbelts. The kids just run amok in the backseat, wrestling each other and crawling around the car. Sometimes, the kids even sit on their parents` laps, which is totally against the law in the U.S. ( at least where seatbelt laws are enforced). I guess the parents figure that if the kids don`t like wearing them, they shouldn`t have to, even if it`s for their own good.

Zack sent me an interesting link that might help explain how the Japanese view discipline:

It would be ethnocentric of me to say that the punishment at my school is crazy. Some of the punishment in America doesn`t make sense, either. I doubt that Japanese prisons are overflowing like American prisons are. People here may have a strange way of disciplining children, but the crime rate is low and I can walk to my house safely at night. People feel a sense of duty and honor here that you rarely see in a place like the U.S. Something to think about.


Woo! I got a new follower. I feel special.

I also feel special because tomorrow is my birthday and I`m going to wear my princess skirt and look at pretty leaves in Ina and eat cake and drink fancy coffee and do my hair nice. I was going to get a new tattoo in honor of turning 25, but I realized that I might as well wait until I`m in the land of the decently priced tattoo again (it`s like $300 and up for a small tattoo in Japan). Zack has agreed to go shopping with me in Matsumoto one day so that I can get new pants and face stuff from the Body Shop.

I`ve barely blogged this month, and I wonder if next month will be any better. I take the GRE on December 5th so I`ll be cramming for pretty much the duration of November. November is also National Novel Writing Month, so I`ll have to decide if I want to participate this year or not.

A few students have written me "Happy Birthday" notes and I can`t tell you how happy that makes me. It`s the little things.

I promise to do an internet activism post soon! There are lots of good causes out there that need our help! Have a good day!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

obla-di, obla-da

I promise that I haven`t abandoned my blog. I`ve actually been really busy at work lately. There are weeks when I barely teach 10 or 15 classes, and then there are weeks when I teach 5 classes a day.

I`ve also been forcing myself to read my thick and intimidating GRE study book. According to the diagnostic test at the beginning of the book, I am mildly retarded. I really don`t have an impressive vocabulary and I don`t remember anything about math. So I`m determined to keep studying.

My writing has been going all right. I submitted a flash fiction story to some journals but I doubt that it will get published. I`m okay with that. I have something else that I`m working on. Obla-di, obla-da.

In addition to writing, studying for the GRE, and semi-training for the half-marathon which is now less than a week away, I have also had to plan activities for my classes. I started out the school year all perky and determined to be a super ALT, so now all the teachers expect me to have activities for almost every new Lesson that we start in the book.

So I`ve been busy. I managed to finally beat Level 20 of Dr. Mario this weekend however, so I`ve at least accomplished something. I`ve been too busy to even care that I will be 25 this Saturday. I don`t even care that I can`t drink on my birthday because it is the day before the half-marathon. (Well, I care a little. There is a punk show on my birthday that I probably can`t attend because the temptation to drink beer and get rowdy would be too great).

Chamomile tea has been helping me sleep at night. I`m still not a dead-person sleeper like Zack, but I`m doing much better. And that`s enough for now. On Saturday, I will eat so much cake that my cheeks puff out, and then I will run it all off in the marathon.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I started writing 2 blog posts this week but I am incredibly sleep deprived. I haven`t had a full night`s sleep in at least a week. It takes hours for me to fall asleep, even when I`m exhausted, and I wake up at least 3 or 4 times every night. I wake up at like 4 a.m. and just lay in the dark with my eyes closed, not asleep, but too tired to get out of bed.

I`m going to look for some sort of herbal remedy tonight. I am so tired that I can`t see straight. Ugh. Caffeine doesn`t even work any more.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


I signed up for a half-marathon a few months ago (okay, maybe it was May). Being a true American, meters and kilometers didn`t sound very intimidating to me. I don`t even really know how far a kilometer is. I somehow decided that a half-marathon is 13 kilometers, which is only 8 miles.

It turns out that a half-marathon is about 13 miles, not kilometers. A very subtle but important difference. That`s about 21 kilometers. That I have to run. In less than 3 weeks.

I signed up in May. I started training in August when we got back from Bali. I can now run over 30 minutes at a time. I have no idea how far that is. All I know is that it will take more than 2 hours to run 13 miles. A lot more than 2 hours.

I`ve always wanted to be the kind of person who exercises. After years of P.E.-induced trauma, I viewed physical activity as a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Who really enjoys getting sweaty and sore? According to the people in my P.E. classes growing up, I am mildly retarded and have no coordination. Why would I run when I am clearly the most awkward person on the planet? I walked laps around the gym while the other kids were running or playing basketball. In college, I couldn`t make myself use the exercise machines at the gym because I didn`t want people to watch me.

Signing up for the Suwako Marathon was one attempt at conquering my fear of exercise. I`m glad I did. I`ve reached a point where it is actually enjoyable to go running (sometimes). No one laughs. No one really even notices. My clothes are mysteriously looser and my skin is clearer. My brain doesn`t feel so clouded with stress and anxiety most days.

Some fellow gaijin and I are going to run around Lake Suwa this weekend. That`s 16 kilometers. I don`t even try to think in miles any more. I think about the way my feet are hitting the ground. About the sound my breath makes. About pushing myself to make it to that next lamppost. I think about how good it feels to look behind me and see how far I`ve come.