Thursday, October 25, 2007

CA Learns English Pronunciation (Part I)

I can't say I've never been so humiliated in my life. If I chose to look back on my life, I could probably find other times when I've experienced such humiliation.

But how would you feel if you were the only native speaker in a chorus that was going to perform an opera in your language, and rather than asking you to teach pronunciation, a young female member of the chorus was given the job?

I was stunned. The first time Sapporo Symphony Orchestra practiced the opera, “Peter Grimes” by Benjamin Britten, I was asked to read the lines. It was on the spur of the moment, but I was happy to help. Of course, I would have appreciated more notice so that I could have checked the text ahead of time.

Were they somehow not satisfied with my pronunciation? Is it because I'm American, not British? If that's the case, I can do British. In fact, I have an M.A. in theatre for which I was required to take a course in dialects. I can do not only British (do you want the Queen's English or Cockney?), but also Irish, Scottish, French, German, and a number of other accents.

I know the difference between standard AE and standard BRE (aka “received pronunciation“). I know, for example, that “can” is pronounced with the same “a” as “at” in both dialects, and “can't” is pronounced with a so-called broad A as in “father.”

When I cool down and examine why it is that I was not asked to teach pronunciation, I imagine the actual reason is because my Japanese is still lacking. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not able, at this point, to give long detailed explanations about the nuances of the pronunciation.

However, what I am good at, and this has been proven by teaching English pronunciation for years, is getting clear pronunciation out of non-native speakers by using drama techniques. I also get them to work on how they're moving their teeth, tongue, and lips. I have them notice what it feels like and looks like (in a mirror) rather than just listening to me and imitating me like parrots (which is not always the most effective way to teach, especially for those who don't have a good ear).

No one even approached me about teaching, though. No one knows about my Master's in theatre, or the fact that I've had years of experience teaching pronunciation. No one bothered to find out my credentials. And I didn't know, until I got to rehearsal, that I was going to end up sitting through an English pronunciation class! It would have been nice if someone had let me know so that I didn't sit there feeling totally humiliated.

[This was started in October, 2007. See the continuation on March 11, 2008, when yet another ”pronunciation teacher“ was brought in.]

Monday, October 08, 2007

Grammatically Speaking

My favorite column in any of the TESOL publications is "Grammatically Speaking" by Richard Firsten in The Essential Teacher. His answers to even the most minute but baffling questions about English grammar are brilliant.

He always poses a question for the readers at the end of his column. Having been a teacher at Dave's ESL Help Center, where I spent numbers of hours answering questions about grammar and other aspects of English, I still have fun working out the puzzles of the language. In June, therefore, I almost couldn't help but responding to the question of the month.

Much to my delight, I received a personal email from Richard Firsten, thanking me for my answer. What's more, he used my answer in his column! To quote:

Here’s the Brain Teaser from my June 2007 column: What role does over play in the following sentences?

He went over to his friend’s house.
They flew over to Bimini.
She ran over to the grocery before it closed.

The first acceptable answer was sent in by Carol Ann Edington in Sapporo, Japan:

The over in these sentences implies geographical proximity. Even in the second sentence using flew over, the assumption is that Bimini is not far from where the flight originated.

For that reason, I could say, "Come over sometime," to a friend living in my neighborhood or city. However, the invitation would be strange if the friend were living in a different prefecture (state or province).

That’s precisely the reason for using over in those sentences, Carol Ann. And your explanation couldn’t be clearer! Thank you very much.

If you want to read the latest "Grammatically Speaking" or even answer the latest teaser for yourself, check out:

Monday, August 13, 2007

What I Don't Like about My New Passport

It was a relief to get my new passport/passeport/passaporte today. Fortunately I remembered that I needed to get it renewed this year for this first time in 10 years.

Since my driver's license and alien registration card both expire in September, I assumed it was the same for my passport. However, when I checked the expiration date a couple weeks ago in preparation for my trip in September, I discovered that it had expired June 29th. Yikes!

I immediately called the American Consulate in Sapporo to see if I was "legal." They assured me that, since I have a permanent resident visa, I'm fine. Relieved, I went about filling out the form (a synch with the new online system) and getting a photo. I had the latter taken by my neighbor and resized it and printed it out myself, a feat of which I'm rather proud - plus, for the next 10 years, I'll be able to carry a photo that doesn't look like a mugshot.

When I opened my new electronic passport, however, I was dismayed. On the front cover is a cannon! There's a quotation from "The Star-Spangled Banner," the so-called national anthem which I refuse to sing because I detest singing about "bombs bursting in air." I'd much rather sing about "spacious skies, "amber waves of grain," and "purple mountains' majesty above the fruited plain." At any rate, the embossed picture on the passport is one from a warship with soldiers checking to see if the star-spangled banner yet waves.

I don't suppose immigration would take it well if I whited out the parts I don't like (the cannon) and highlighted the parts I like ("the land of the free"). As a pacifist, though, I feel as though I'm compromising my values by being required by law to carry around even a picture of a lethal weapon.

A Japanese friend of mine, to whom I showed the new passport, was astonished at how militaristic as well as nationalist it is, not to mention sexist. All 10 pages for visa stamps have images of various national monuments (naturally, the four MALE presidents carved in stone on Mt. Rushmore in the Black Hills) and various scenes of Americana (a farmer, a couple of cowboys, and absolutely no women, unless one counts the Statue of Liberty).

The quotations, as well, are all by men except for one by an Anna Julia Cooper on the very last page (which makes it look almost like an afterthought). I had to look her up on the Internet to find out who she was. It turns out that she wrote a book that "was declared the first work of an African-American feminist." (See: I like the quotation: "The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class - it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity."

Other quotations are more predictable, including that "all MEN are created equal" [emphasis mine] from the Declaration of Independence. Furthermore, more than one talks about "America." For years, I've been teaching that my country is not America; it is the United States of America, better referred to as the U.S., since the Americas include North, Central, and South America.

I feel it's insulting to our neighbors to call the country America. On the other hand, I suppose it's too complicated to doctor quotations made by past presidents and politicians for the sake of being politically correct. Still, by continuing to use an inaccurate name for the country, it furthers the misnomer. (A question on another person's blog was, how does a person from another of the Americas feel when greeted with "Welcome to America," a continent on which that person has always lived.)

On the positive side, there is a beautiful quotation from the Mohawk version of the Thanksgiving Address, as follows: "We send thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are glad they are still here and we hope it will always be so."

Well, the second part of the quotation is rather bizarre, since if animals were not "still" here, neither would human beings. At least animals are honored (and with pictures of a bear, a seagull, eagles, buffalo, oxen, and cattle as well).

As for how improved this e-passport will be remains to be seen. No doubt it will work better at keeping non-citizens OUT of the U.S. It may also be an easier way for anyone caring one to be identified as a U.S. citizen, and I'm not sure I always want to be identified that easily. The State Department has assured us that "It will not permit tracking of individuals," yet I'm concerned whether the Homeland Securities Act will find ways around that in cases deemed possible "threats" to security. Basically, I don't feel that much more secure.

A final comment on a point I find intriguing: The new passport/passeport/passporte is now in three languages - Spanish as well as French, in addition to English. Granted that these are the languages used historically in the country since the Europeans invaded, and that they are the three languages most likely to be used by the bearers of the passport. However, there are so many cognates in the three languages that it's not really that difficult for Spanish or French speakers to guess the meaning of most of the words. However, those translations aren't going to be of much help in most Asian countries.

Well, at any rate, I'll now be able to re-enter my country legally and with, I hope, little hassle.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Peter Grimes Is Coming!

Next September the Sapporo Symphony Chorus & Orchestra will be putting on the opera “Peter Grimes” by Benjamin Britten.  The opera is rarely performed in Japan, or in the world for that matter.  However, after the Symphony Chorus debut last December, apparently it was felt that we were capable of undertaking the challenge.

The chorus is involved in this opera more than in most, playing a role similar to that of the choruses in ancient Greek drama.  The townspeople of the tiny fishing village provide constant commentary on the events taking place.

What's so great for me is that the opera will be sung in English!  No doubt it'll be a serious challenge for my chorus-mates, but I'll help in any way I can.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Halloween on the 4th of July

At first the students in my To Kill a Mockingbird class had no idea what Boo meant. Boo is the nickname the children in the novel give to a neighbor who stays hidden from sight, thus appealing to their vivid imaginations.

My students knew almost nothing about Halloween, either, even though it’s becoming a popular holiday in Japan – as does any holiday that involves bright decorations and a strong possibility for profit. Because the events following a Halloween pageant in To Kill a Mockingbird are the climax to the novel, it’s natural to incorporate Halloween activities into the lessons.

First, we had a visit to the House of Horrors. Just as in the novel, my students, with eyes closed, had to touch parts from a dead body: the eyes (peeled grapes), the heart (raw pig’s liver), and “innards” (spaghetti). Even though our House of Horrors was limited, being in the hall outside the classroom, the students provided the appropriate squeals and squeamish behavior. They also had no problem answering the question in the chapter relating to the dead body parts!

Then, they had their first experience with a costume contest. Given the limitations imposed by a class of 31 students that meets in a computer lab twice a week, the contest was confined to hats. A majority of the students participated enthusiastically, with enough variety for everyone to vote on a number of categories: the most original, the most beautiful, the strangest, the funniest, the cutest, and the perfect hat. The winners can be seen in the photo. Who would you vote for?

This was an intensive course that goes from April to July, so the lesson on Halloween happened to fall on the 4th of July. I can only hope that my students don’t think that Americans celebrate their Independence Day with pumpkins and witches’ hats!

[added later]
At another university, for all women, the course goes the full school year, so the lesson on Halloween falls naturally at the end of October. These students also gussied up for a hat contest, with several choosing, for some reason, to be witches.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Rise Again!

What’s the best way to get an excellent seat at a symphony concert at Kitara Hall in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, for free? It’s a rather lengthy process, but first one tries out for the Sapporo Symphony Chorus; then, after passing the audition, one spends long hours every Tuesday night and sometimes weekends rehearsing.

For the celebration of Sapporo Symphony's 500th performance, they chose Mahler's Symphony #2 in C minor, a grandiose piece which acts as a showcase for the orchestra, using practically every instrument possible. It was a truly uplifting experience, though one that required enormous physical energy, perhaps the most demanding piece I've ever sung. For Sopranos, it meant singing a range of notes extending from the A below middle C to a high B, and from PPPP to FFF. Nevertheless, having practiced since January, and especially after 5 rehearsals and 2 performances with the orchestra, I really grew to love this powerful symphony, which goes through the gamut of emotions from pathos to joy.

One of its most transcendent moments is when the Soprano solo slips almost imperceptibly from the voices of the chorus, rising to an E flat as she sings, "Rise again!" (from the poem Die Auferstehung [The Resurrection] by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock). The Soprano/Alto duet in the 5th movement, from which the chorus continues singing "With wings . . . I shall soar upwards too the light which no eye has penetrated!", makes me wish Mahler had written operas. He did, at least, include choral music in several of symphonies.

Audiences at both Sapporo Symphony performances responded enthusiastically, and the June 24th performance was broadcast on NHK radio. You can read what the Hokkaido Shimbun wrote about it (in Japanese) here. I've discovered since that the piece was played by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, for its 1000th performance. Read James R. Oestreich's June 15, 2003, New York Times review of that performance in "Music: Tuning Up/Mahler's Symphony No. 2; Picking Up Beethoven's Gauntlet."

That's me in the second row, second from the left. I couldn't have asked for a better seat!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

I Can’t Not Dance

Since I’m going to be a dancer in my next lifetime, I need to get in all the practice I can during this lifetime. Unfortunately, I wasn’t born with the physique of a dancer, but that hasn’t stopped me. Through the years I’ve had formal or informal training in folk dancing, square dancing, “social” dancing, jazz dance, hula, and, most recently, ballroom dancing.

For about 3 years, every Tuesday evening I did the waltz, tango, rumba, cha cha, and samba in a dance studio only a block from my apartment. The way I started the lessons was practically like a scene in the movie Shall We Dance? For several years I gazed up at the lit windows of the studio, sometimes seeing a shadow of a dancer moving past. I finally got up the nerve to climb the stairs to the 2nd floor and, after peering through the glass door, signed up for a dance circle.

Ballroom dancing is a terrific workout in so many ways. Not only does it help with strength, balance, and coordination (I'm beginning to distinguish my left from my right foot), it is also a social way of exercise together. "In addition," according to an article in the National Retired Teachers Association newsletter (2007) "dancers must memorize intricate steps and movements, mater timing, and coordinate movements with a partner--the type of mental acrobatics that hold off memory loss and dementia."

Unfortunately, when I passed the audition for Sapporo Symphony Chorus, I had to quit since rehearsals were on the same evening. However, private lessons were still an option., so I kept taking lessons occasionally even though it was expensive. A couple weeks ago I was dismayed when I looked up to see the windows darkened and the curtains gone. The studio was empty! All my dreams of being belle of the ball at my 50th high school reunion had vanished. And just after I had gotten new arch supports in my dance shoes that meant I could dance longer without getting tired.

Actually, I had met my dance teacher at the subway station a few weeks before, and he had mentioned something about opening a new studio. What I had thought was that he was branching out, and that he’d be teaching in at least a couple of places. Last week I got a formal announcement in the mail about his new studio. I can get there pretty easily by streetcar, although it’s a long ride of at least half an hour, not counting standing and waiting in all sorts of inclement weather. I’m so eager to continue dancing – at least the Latin dances – that I’ll probably check out his new studio. If it has air conditioning, I’ll continue private lessons for sure during summer vacation.

I can't not dance!

Scott, Phil. "Get Your Groove On." National Retired Teachers Association, Spring 2007, p. 12.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Pain of Relative Pitch

This evening was rehearsal just for Sopranos, but unlike what I had hoped for and expected, we didn’t spend much time going over the places in Puccini’s Missa Breva where our notes are still a little shaky. Instead it was voice training, which didn’t do me much good since I have a cold and couldn’t really sing.

I sat a couple rows behind everyone, not wanting to spread my germs to them. It’s hard enough to sit out a rehearsal when I want to be singing, but it’s even harder to listen to one’s own group not quite making it. I don’t know if my participation would have made a difference, but I noticed a number of problems, which the voice trainer managed to overlook.

She was focusing on how the sound was produced and often demonstrated the difference between what the Sopranos were sounding like and what it should sound like. Although one could hear the difference in the sounds she demonstrated, she rarely succeeded in getting the Sopranos to produce the clearest, best sound. In fact, a couple of times she exclaimed “Bravo” [not “Brava”] in places where they were nowhere near that remarkable.

Worst of all, she didn’t have a really great sense of pitch and didn’t notice when they were ever so slightly flat. (She was a bit flat herself a number of times.) Although I don’t have perfect pitch, I have what’s called relative pitch and can tell when a piece is a bit off key. I was cringing at having to listen to tones that were just a hair’s breadth under.

Having had a number of excellent voice teachers over the past few years, it’s really difficult having to study with one who’s much less adequate. The fact that she’s a bit off key, and unaware of it, makes it all the more painful for someone like myself. Basically the Sopranos’ tone could have been improved by better posture, breath, and pure vowels (especially “i” and “u”).

Pronunciation wasn’t much better. Although the teacher made a few corrections, she seemed unaware of several places where pronunciation was more Japanese than Latin. “Suscipe,” for example, sounded like “sushi pay.” Sad to say, the Sopranos sounded no better at the end of tonight’s rehearsal than they had at the beginning, and it only reinforced some of the poor vocal habits.

If my Japanese were more fluent, I would love to be doing some conducting and voice training myself. I know could bring out a better vocal quality in the Sopranos than our current voice teacher. And I’d certainly have them singing on pitch!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

He’s Free

Fantastic news today. A friend and colleague who’s been in the Sapporo detention center awaiting trial was freed today on bail. He’s been there since mid-February, which is about 3 months of seeing nothing but the walls of his tiny cell, except for an occasional walk on the roof and a 10-minute visit in a cubicle with friends or family on weekdays that weren’t holidays. I’m sure he’s more appreciative of the gorgeous spring weather today than any of us.

The trial is still to come. Since he’s pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana (grown in the woods for the purpose of relieving pain from a serious back injury), these are the last days he’ll ever spend in Hokkaido, a place he’s grown very fond of. What his sentence will be remains to be seen. The worst case scenario is that he’d be imprisoned in Tokyo where he wouldn’t be allowed visitors. I can’t imagine what mental state he’d be in once he was released if that were to happen.

At any rate, he’s out for the time being – and able to enjoy his freedom with his girlfriend and his parents, who flew here for the hearings and trial (and who, incidentally, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last Friday). Fortunately, there hasn’t been anything about the hearings in either the Japanese or English media, so he’s been saved that bit of infamy.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Cleaning Woman Turns Interior Decorator

The woman who has been cleaning my apartment for almost 10 years is fond of “straightening” it up as well. This is sometimes a bit disconcerting, since I generally keep everything in a specific place so I know exactly where it is when I need it. This is especially true of my school materials. For example, because I teach different classes at different schools every day, I have bins for each day of the week. That way everything is ready for me to change my backpack. I have tried to explain this to her, but the bins occasionally get rearranged during the process of cleaning.

On the bright side, she takes much better care of my plants than I do, to the point where I’ve turned over their care to her. Even more, she adores my cats, and they love how she fusses over them. She’s actually sat for them three times, including once having them at her place over New Year’s. In that sense, I’m extremely fortunate since I know when I want to travel that I’ll have a reliable catsitter.

Friday, when I came home, I was a bit surprised to find a brand new carpet in my livingroom. Granted, the old one had gotten more than shaggy and dingy. However, for her to replace the carpet without even consulting me – well, it feels a bit as though a boundary has been overstepped. Fortunately, it’s not as hideous as the bedspread I came home to after one of my trips; I never discovered what happened to the former one which, while secondhand, was one whose muted colors blended well with my décor and which I was fond of.

I’m still not certain about my new carpet. It’s also in muted colors – shades of bluish green and yellow – with a pattern of leaves. It’s not exactly what I would choose. It doesn’t really match any of the rest of my décor, though my apartment, which is made up of mostly used or cheap furniture, can’t really be said to have a décor, per se. It’s possible that she thought the colors matched the sage green of my office/classroom, where there is much more harmony to the curtains, throw rugs, and all. However, the bluish green in the carpet is quite different.

I’ll thank her for the carpet, and I’ll keep it. I can hardly not accept her generosity, especially since I need her other services. Besides which, I have a sense that her tendency for rearranging may actually be good for the feng shui of my place – something to do with opening up new spaces and allowing for greater flow. Occasionally she even finds a better place for some of my possessions than I have. As for the carpet, I’m already used to it, and I may even look for some accessories that match it. And my cats are quite happy with it.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

My First Neighborhood Meeting

This evening, many of the buildings and houses in my neighborhood finally got names and faces attached to them. I was outside my building one morning when I noticed a group of people with transparent trash bags, white gloves, and tongs passed by, picking up litter from the sidewalks. I thanked them as they passed by, and one of the women stopped to talk with me. She invited me to join them, asking me where I lived. “Right here,” I said, indicating my building.

A couple days later there was a notice of some sort of meeting in my mailbox. On it someone had written a name and cell phone number. Even though I still can’t read Japanese very well, I gathered that it was for a neighborhood meeting, which was confirmed by my private students. Further, there was going to be food, perhaps a meal.

Even though the deadline for making a reservation had passed, I called the woman whose name was on the paper saying I’d like to go, if it was possible. She exclaimed, “Ureshii [I’m glad]!” Later I discovered that she lives just a few doors down from me.

The food turned out to be a delicious Chinese dinner, and I didn’t have to pay a cent! (I later learned that part of my rent most likely contributes to a neighborhood fund, probably no more than $3.00 a month.) Other than that, there was nothing remarkable about the meeting. The proper people were introduced and thanked, the budget gone over (much more quickly than at my annual chorus meetings), and a couple of events were pointed out.

I had been half afraid that I would be roped into garbage duty, having to put out the nets preventing crows from scrounging through the trash. However, the neighbor who does that – a retired man whom I sometimes see walking or riding his bicycle around the neighborhood – wasn’t even at the meeting. I imagine he takes some pleasure in his responsibility because he puts the net out promptly at 8:30 a.m. and takes it in shortly after the garbage truck leaves, 4 times a week. That would be impossible for me since I leave for school so early, and sometimes don’t get home until 4 p.m.

At any rate, next time the neighborhood group has a clean-up “party,” I’ll be glad to join them. Picking up litter is something of a legacy of my mother (something even mentioned at her funeral), and I’ll take pleasure in helping to keep the neighborhood clean. Besides, it’ll be a chance to get to know some of my neighbors even better. Of course, there’s always the potential for new students for CA’s Academy of English as well!

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Drummer Boy

Jazz chants (originally developed by Carolyn Graham) are the way I often start conversation classes at the universities where I teach. They’re a great way to get the energy going, especially in morning classes, and it’s also a way to get all the students speaking in English.

Naturally, they also help with (American English) pronunciation, particularly, stress, intonation, and linking. An additional asset is that they develop the students’ listening to spoken English. On class evaluations, students often list jazz chants as one of their favorite class activities.

This morning we were doing the “Banker’s Wife’s Blues,” which has some especially tricky rhythm. Sometimes I have students clap the rhythm, but today I decided to have them use pens or pencils to tap out the rhythm. hoping it wouldn’t seem too childish for college freshmen.

One of the boys pulled a set of actual drumsticks from his bag. It took him a couple tries, but once he got the rhythm down, I had him lead the whole class in our drumming session. All the students really got into it. Of course, when we read the jazz chant after that, they all had the rhythm down perfectly.

It’s the sort of spontaneous moment one can’t plan for but, when it happens, the level of enthusiasm in the class increases remarkably. I only wish I had a drummer in every class where I use jazz chants.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Students Making Inferences

In the TOEFL (Test for English as a Foreign Language) class this morning, we went over the types of questions in the reading section. Some of the vocabulary was new to the students, particularly “inferences.”

Because I try to teach as much as possible without translation, I gave them a personal example to illustrate the skill of making inferences. The other day I saw a group of people going around my neighborhood picking up trash. When they passed by my building, I thanked them and talked with one woman about how I’d like to join them some time. She asked where I lived, and I replied, “Here!”

A couple days later, there was an announcement stuck in my mailbox with a woman’s name and phone number. My reading in Japanese is rather weak, but as I glanced through it, I gathered that it was about a neighborhood meeting. I also figured that the woman was the one I had talked to. I explained to the students that I inferred what the notice was all about, even though I couldn’t read it completely.

During the next class, where we’re studying To Kill a Mockingbird, some of the students finished the work early. I noticed them looking through the questions for the next chapter, but they weren’t writing or using the book. I asked them what they were doing, and they beamed up at me, “We’re making inferences!”

I was delighted. They both received a special sticker.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


For the past few months, I've been experiencing serious fatigue. Besides having to endure what has seemed like the longest winter of my life, there are some very real causes that all have very manageable solutions. Here's what I need to do:

(1) Establish a regular sleep routine. Since I have to leave for school early twice a week, it means getting up at 6 a.m. I try but often fail to get to bed by 10 p.m. those evenings. (Too many books to read and movies to watch, which can't wait until I'm retired.) This morning I forced myself to get up for 6:30 a.m. "radio exercises," even though I didn't get to bed until after midnight and to sleep until around 1 a.m. Going to bed at a decent hour is much easier when I have the whole evening free, but that's almost never. Two or three times a week I have rehearsals until 9 p.m. and, well, by the time I get into bed, it's time for lights out when I want to read! It doesn't help that my cats often decide that 10 or 11 p.m. is a perfect time to start playing, including charging around the apartment making sounds that would easily provide competition with that of a couple of elephants.

(2) Stop eating chocolate and other sweets. I cut out caffeine years ago, since a hyperactive person like myself doesn't need that extra boost. In fact, when I drink caffeine, I end up making circles around my friends with both my mouth and everything else. Sugar and caffeine have a similar effect, resulting in my taking on (and sometimes even accomplishing) endless projects. Get me started on a slideshow of my cats or a Keynote (similar to but better than PowerPoint for those who are Apple-challenged) presentation, and I end up working on it half the night. (See point #1.) Then I wake up tired and use cacao as a way to energize myself for getting through classes - well, it becomes a vicious cycle which can only be solved by refraining from sweets altogether. (sob)

(3) Get more exercise. Another vicious cycle I've been caught up in is feeling too tired (or too lazy) to exercise, and then sleeping poorly because I haven't exercised, and then not having the energy to exercise the next day. This gets aggravated by the winters in Sapporo where fear of walking on icy sidewalks keeps me imprisoned in my apartment. Of course, I could always exercise in my apartment - in fact, have a number of yoga and other exercise videotapes. It's much easier, though, now that spring and classes have started because I get a lot of "natural" exercise just going to and from school, including climbing at least 8 flights of stairs (at subway stations and schools) most days. From where I live, in fact, I can walk to a number of places, including my hairdresser's (half an hour each way), downtown (about half an hour, depending on the stoplights), and a couple of friends' houses (about an hour away).

It's when I take a trip somewhere that I get a great deal of exercise because of all the walking that I do. I've walked all over Paris and, when in Singapore last September, my friends and I spent more time walking than riding (in taxis and on the subway) - around the botanical garden, the bird park, Chinatown, Little India, and numerous places every day. The walking I do in Sapporo is more to appointments, meetings, and the like, rather than for "entertainment." Nevertheless, my overall condition, particularly the fatigue, will improve enormously this spring/summer if I make a policy of walking rather than taking public transportation when I have the time.

Meanwhile, I miss my ballroom dance lessons. Since they fall on the same evening as rehearsals for Sapporo Symphony Chorus, I've had to quit since I got into the chorus after auditioning last summer. The rehearsals provide a great workout for my lungs, but the dancing stretched all sorts of muscles. I had wanted to take private lessons in February and March but, in addition to my fear of navigating treacherous sidewalks to get to the studio, I was spending hours getting used to all my new toys (DVD recorder, iPod, iMac - and all the software that comes with it) that are ironically keeping more sedentary.

With a holiday week beginning as of yesterday, I have made a renewed commitment to Spark People - at least for the week. Even though I eat fairly well (not counting the chocolate), I find that when I record my food intake and exercise regularly on the site, which calculates all the calories, etc., for me, I eat much more consciously. The same goes for exercise. It helps to get all those Spark points. My goal: 1000 for the month of May!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Reflections on Presenting

Yesterday (Sunday) a colleague and I gave a presentation at the local JALT (Japan Association for Language Teachers) meeting. Our presentation was, in fact, on how to present, which, in a sense, put more pressure on us because the way in which we presented might be scrutinized more than in the usual presentation.

Basically we were satisfied with how well it went. Our strongest point was sticking to the time limits which we had set for each activity. Also, the pacing was generally good - too slow, according to the feedback of one participant, but we had to take into consideration that nearly half the audience consisted of non-native speakers, including 6 Japanese university students.

My co-presenter, Wilma Luth, and I made the decision that, if we were giving on presentation on effective ways of giving presentations (forgive the redundancy), it wouldn’t do for us to stand in front and simply give our listeners a bunch of tips. We wanted to demonstrate an effective presentation. In other words, the medium was the message.

Unfortunately, even though the presentation itself was well-received, the message was a little too subtle for most of those present. Some wanted more actual tips, and one person commented that it was rather thin.

There are three ways that our presentation could have been more effective, even great. The first is that we broke one of the “rules” of presenting in that we didn’t make it clear the direction we were taking. In fact, the notes I had written beforehand on Presentation Points included, “Give the audience an overview of what's going to be covered.”

The participants were particularly confused when it came to the second part, which started with 20 minutes by a different presenter on the topic of writing abstracts. They didn’t realize that Wilma and I were going to continue with moving from everyone talking about what excited them in their teaching to thinking about how they could turn that into a presentation. We knew, but it would have been nice if we could clued the audience what we were doing!

Another way in which the presentation could have been improved is by giving more examples, either from our own experiences as presenters or from presentations, both effective and ineffective, that we had been to. Our assumption was that examples were something that would come up in group discussion, which they did. What was lacking was sharing those with the audience. Everyone seemed to enjoy hearing the “war stories,” and concrete examples make the points more memorable.

A final way in which the presentation would have been truly effective is to give some questions to the participants at the end about the way in which we had presented. Although they were aware of how we were managing time, since that was what we used as an example to introduce the brainstorming in small groups, there was too much on the subliminal level that escaped the awareness of all but the most experienced presenters. A few of the questions we might have asked include:

o Where did the presenters stand during the presentation? [possible answer: not behind the podium, but generally in front when giving explanations and moving around during group discussion]

o How did the presenters get the participants involved immediate? [possible answer: by taking a poll]

o What did the presenters do with points elicited from the audience? [possible answer: repeated and rephrased them, then put them on a screen for all to see]

o What was the effect of the pacing of the presentation? [possible answer: participants had times for interaction, times when they could sit back and listen, with none of the segments being excessively short or long (taking into consideration the varying language levels of the participants)]

o How was humor used during the presentation? [possible answer: “touch one’s nose” during the initial poll, photos of the cats during the Keynote slideshow, anecdotes]

At any rate, if our presentation stimulated those who were present to think more about what and how they could present, we achieved our goal. Rather than flaunting ourselves as experts in the area, since nearly two-thirds of the participants (we discovered by a show of hands) had presented, we wanted them to reflect on their own experiences and be aware of what they already knew about what makes an effective presentation. As for novices, we hoped they would gain the confidence that they could give presentations and actually begin to think about doing so.

By sharing these reflections on our presentation on the JALT website, we also want to show that a presentation is an on-going process, including planning stages, the actual presenting, and reflection afterwards.

Friday, April 20, 2007

TGIF the 2nd

With the second week of the semester over (as of half an hour ago), I can look back on some amazingly good and some amazingly bad experiences.

To start with the good, students at Sapporo University gave their presentations on the background of To Kill a Mockingbird. Five groups each had to do research in a particular area – geography (of Alabama), history (especially The Civil War), economics (including the Great Depression), law (such as the Jim Crow Laws), and culture (food and clothing of the 1930s).

Having taught the class for 2 years to students of a much lower level at a different school, I didn’t have very high expectations. My experience had been that students spend however much “research” time (generally very little) basically translating a lot of the terms into Japanese. That’s acceptable, since they at least gain some understanding of the location and period of the novel.

The presentations given by the Sapporo University students were remarkable. Many of them had made PowerPoint slideshows, complete with graphics and animation. While some of them need to work on presentation skills, such as speaking to the audience rather than reading everything from their notes and facing the audience rather than the screen, they had obviously done their research.

The students' enthusiasm has made teaching exciting for me, and I now feel that the time spent on preparing the materials – some 4 months (since questions about all 31 chapters, including feedback for both correct and incorrect answers, are on the class website) – was time well spent. In fact, teaching this class is somewhat the pinnacle of my career.

At the other extreme, at the University of Education, where I should be teaching methodology courses for future English teachers, they have me teaching required English conversation classes. The ones for the first year students went well because there were 22 students in each, and since I’ve been using, and improving on, the same materials for years, I can really have fun with the class.

Then came 3rd period. (I’m groaning inside even thinking about it.) Last week there were far too many students. I’m not sure of the exact number, but around 50, until everyone learned that the class was not English composition AND listening comprehension AND English conversation. (I was only told to teach English conversation.) This week, in addition to perhaps 40 students in the classes, there were others at the door asking to join.

I had a kind of break down. I know it was very unprofessional, but I was simply at a loss as to what to do. I walked in ready to teach, only to be accosted with decisions about letting more students into a class that’s already too full. I was at a total loss as to what to do and said so to the students. They said to go to the office, but which office and where. (For anyone who thinks it should be obvious, I can only say that the departments don’t even communicate effectively with one another, much less lowly part-time instructors. The girl [sic] at the place where I check in every week is capable of little more than getting a CD player or envelopes for me.)

Finally, one of the students in my class went to get Professor Sato from the Global Education Department (why Global Education, I’m not sure, since it’s an English class). His solution, which he explained to the students in Japanese, was to have an intensive summer course (which will be a combination of composition, listening AND conversation, so all I can say to the person who teaches it is, “Have fun!”). A few of the students left at that point, willing to take the summer course, and we thanked them.

However, I was still faced with a class that was way too big. My decision was to cut students who hadn’t done any homework, and I was ruthless. In the end, I was left with a workable number of 32 students.

It didn’t end there, though. After class, one of the students who had been late (for a 1:00 class), so hadn’t been allowed into the class, appeared at the door with Professor Sato to interpret for him. His reason for being late was that he had been at the doctor’s and had a long commute from Otaru, a seaside town.

Once more, I felt forced into a decision that might result in adding more students to an already overcrowded class. I hadn’t let another student enter because of being late, and yet another, who was absent because of illness, had text messaged me (which I ask students to do on the first day of class, giving them my email and cell mail addresses as well as examples of messages to write). This student hadn’t text messaged me that he was going to be late, but he said (through the interpreter) that he didn’t understand.

Then I asked to look at his textbook. He had done no homework. Again, he said he didn’t understand. At that point, I became relentless. If he didn’t understand my directions well enough to know that he was supposed to do chapter 1 for homework, he was very unlikely to understand most of what I said in class. Further, he missed my point when I was saying that I had high expectations and thought I was saying that the class was high level. Well, that too.

My biggest concern is not really about all the hassle with which I was faced in that class the first 2 weeks, although it took a small toll on my mental health. It’s that these students are required to take English conversation for their teaching license and end up with only 14 weeks (or a huge total of 21 hours) IF they attend every time. And that’s in a class with over 30 students (I’ve had up to 65, until I begged for the school to provide at least 2 classes), so their chances for talking with me end up being about 10 minutes 4 times a semester. Since they’re in groups of 4, that’s only about 10 minutes of conversation with a native speaker, if they talk at all.

In other words, speak English with a teacher in a class for 10 minutes, and you’ve met the government qualifications for getting a teaching license in Japan. Several comments come to mind, including that it’s the students, and, if they end up teaching, their future students who are getting cheated. My primary reaction, though, is, what a farce!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Nan de?

Japanese students are generally so polite that it can be jarring when one is overtly rude. Of course, there may be the lazy students, the ones who try to get away with doing the minimal amount required. There are also the passive-aggressive ones, who can be spotted immediately by the hostile body language before class has even begun.

In the case of Miss Nan De, neither she nor her friend looked at me while I was introducing myself and the class materials the first day of class last week. In fact, as I recall, she was late, came in through the front door (there are 2 doors to the classroom), and clomped past several others to an empty seat. I thanked her for being able to use her as an example of how NOT to come in late.

The second week, she and her friend were sitting way in the back. I always get my students to sit closer for a number of reasons, including making a more cohesive group. Also, I don’t have to travel as far when I move around the room, which I do frequently, and I can get students’ attention more easily if they’re sitting close to me.

That day, I addressed her as “Miss Pink,” since she was wearing an attractive bright pink sweater, and asked her to sit closer. She moved up one seat. Then I indicated an empty seat near the front of the room and asked her to move there. She replied, loudly, “Nan de?” It can be simply translated as “Why?” but actually has nearly the same effect as if an American student replied, “What the hell for?”

I was momentarily stunned, realizing that there was no way I could explain all my reasons to her – in either English or Japanese – nor should I have to. I simply repeated the request, and she made a great show of reluctantly moving forward.

After that little incident, I tried my best to treat her just as I would any other student, even though I was still reeling from her retort. Would she would have delighted in knowing the effect she had accomplished? Or was it truly a matter of misunderstanding on her part? I have no way of knowing.

When the class was over, an older woman who’s in the class was helping me by erasing the board and straightening chairs, as “good” Japanese students used to do. She told me she was shocked when the young woman had asked, “Nan de?” Knowing that made me feel better about my own reaction.

Upon reflection, what I learned the most is that I need to save my energy for those students who are motivated, attentive, and doing their best. This is actually a lesson that has come up many times for me. Attempting to “cure” or pacify the disgruntled students, when I have no way of knowing where they’re coming from, is simply a drain on my energy and not worth it. Giving such students more attention is a waste of everyone's time. When will I ever truly learn that?

[Note: The following week, I had slept well the night before, was in a really good mood, and the class went especially well, with students being active in group discussions and asking me as well as each other a lot of questions. It wasn’t until later that I found out, from the older student, that Miss Nan De was absent that day. What’s the expression? One rotten apple can spoil the whole barrel. I discovered how true that is!]

Go, Melinda!

At last I know what all the fuss is about. For a couple years I've been hearing about this American Idol program. Now that I have cable (for the first time since I've been in Sapporo), I'm able to watch it. The show is so much more impressive than I had expected, and I can easily see how people get caught up in it.

I'm not sure which I enjoy more - watching the young people's performances, especially as they develop vocally (at least most of them) as well as become more stage-savvy, or the judge's critiques, which are so often right on the mark (even when they disagree).

My only complaint is that I'd like to see more thorough critiques, and not ones that just seem made for sound bites.

I would also LOVE to see all that goes on behind the scenes, especially in terms of blocking. As someone with a graduate degree in Theatre and long-term member of a semi-professional chorus, I've been on stage more often than in the audience. My fascination is not with the performance itself, but in all that went into making the performance, particularly the choice of song and outfit, but above all the vocal training.

Each week (even though, in Japan, we're about 3 weeks behind the American broadcasts so I already know the results), I look forward to seeing what each of the contestants is going to come up with. And I look forward to the reactions from the judges. I can't help but adore Simon (Cowell), holding my breath with the contestants as to whether he's going to tell them in his frank way that the song was a mess, or come up with his delectable comments such as, "You naughty thing" or "You little tiger." Simon is, of course, the real star of the show.

As for Melinda, she had me on "My Funny Valentine," the 2nd time I heard her sing. Another favorite was "I Am a Woman." Since I've performed "I've Got Rhythm" myself (in a medley of Gershwin tunes), I can't wait to hear that one - which will be broadcast in Japan in a couple of weeks.

If Melinda Doolittle were to cut a record today, I'd buy it for sure. Her performances take my breath away. Go, Melinda!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Hokkaido - One of the Most Popular Cities in Japan

On an "ice-melting trip" to Japan, Chinese students chose Hokkaido as one of their favorite cities. That would be wonderful, except that Hokkaido is a prefecture (like state or province), not a city. Perhaps they meant Sapporo, the city where I live.

What's more, when asked about national pride, "80.3% of Japanese respondents were 'proud' or 'very proud' to be Chinese!" [exclamation point mine]

You can read the whole People's Daily Online article, about cultural exchange between Chinese and Japanese students, at: How far and how close are China and Japan?.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Rise again!

In the midst of rehearsal this evening, I realized how unusual my situation might appear to some, although I don't find it all that extraordinary. There I was, an American sitting among a group of Japanese, all singing in German.

We're rehearsing for Mahler's Symphony #2, to be performed in June at Kitara Hall. My German pronunciation continues to improve with each rehearsal. However, I'm probably the only one who has a translation written in English in her score so as to be able to sing not only with correct pronunciation but also with as much understanding as possible of what it is we're singing.

The piece is a tremendously powerful one. I only wish the choral part, which is only 10-15 minutes altogether, were longer. The performance, though, promises to be an exciting one.

"Rise again, yes, rise again. . . .
All that is created must perish.
All that has perished rises again.
Cease trembling!
Prepare to live! . . ."

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Emperor's Bones

I've just spent a couple of weeks inside China in the 1920s, thanks to a novel by Adam Williams. While not a great novel (there is little depth to most of the numerous fictionalized characters, who are only distinguished from one another by some physical trait such as a scar or lisp), it gave me a view of the complexities of that particular period in China I have not had the opportunity to experience until now.

It wasn't the writing that gripped me as much as the fact that my grandparents were in China during the turmoil that was taking place. In fact, my father spent the first 7 years of his life there and, although he born in Massachusetts on furlough (much to his disappointment), his sisters and brothers (some of whom died in infancy) were all born there.

I recall my father once saying that one of his first memories was being frightened of men in uniforms. They were no doubt soldiers, but it's difficult to know for which of the many sides they were fighting. In addition to the Bolsheviks, Communists, and Nationalists, there were numbers of warlords fighting for control of the various provinces. In fact, there were so many groups and individuals from different countries (Japan and Russia, in particular, as well as China) involved that I had to refer to the lists of characters in the novel, some of them real personages, time and time again.

I also poured over the maps in the front of the novel, becoming more familiar with locations that had previously only been vague locations somewhere in Eastern China. Naturally, I was most interested in knowing more about Huchow, which is where my grandparents operated their mission hospital, although I was somewhat unclear of the exact location because of the similarity of names in Chinese. On one map in the book is a city called Foochow, on the coast but somewhat south of Shianghai and on the southern edge of Chekiang, the province where they lived. I've also found a reference to a Fuchow, and it's not clear if that's the same place. To add to the confusion, Fuchow is now known as Fuchaus, Foocxow, or, in one dialect, Hokchiu. Are these the names of different cities or all the same, and which one is where my grandparents lived?

At any rate, the atrocities depicted in the novel are sickening. One can only wonder how much dramatic license the author took, particularly the random decapitations and the scene where dissidents were being thrown live into a furnace. Also, how much were my grandparents aware of the warring and killing that was taking place during that decade?

In one letter, dated May 11, 1923, my grandmother wrote:

I suppose you have all read of the wholesale robbery and kidnapping of travelers on a train bound for Tientsin a few days ago. Undoubtedly the U.S. papers have pictured it even blacker than it is, though it is certainly serious enough. Several countries are involved among the prisoners and many of the people were wealthy tourists or well-known business men. The robbers are disbanded soldiers who strike such terror to the hearts of Chinese that no one dares to stop them. Most of the women prisoners were released because they hindered the party, but a few women and most of the men are still captive and at least one prisoner is desperately sick. We are hoping for a settlement with no lives lost, but we can hardly hope for a cessation of robber activities, for there are precious few missionaries who haven't been within calling distance of robbers.

That is certainly not as graphic as the rapes, tortures, and murders, including those of missionaries, that the novelist "reports," but my grandmother was not one to sensationalize. I do know that the family ended up fleeing to Shanghai in 1927.

At the same time, they were great admirers of Chiang Kai-Shek, with the implication that more Chinese were turning to Christianity because of his leadership. In a letter dated November 1, 1927, she states,

The Nationalist movement has stirred us all, and with all its mistakes it has done a lot of good just by that very stirring. I heard a Chinese leader say recently that the Christian cause in China has grown more in the last six months than in the ten years before the Nationalist movement began.

In the novel, Chiang Kai-Shek is cynically referred to as Cash-My-Check. A couple days after completing the novel, I happened to be watching the film "The Last Emperor" and heard the term again. According to one Marxist, he played "the role of chief butcher of the working class." Apparently, not everyone shared my grandmother's optimism.

Also, there is no mention of the former Emperor in my grandmother's letters. The scene in the novel of the desecration of his bones, while no doubt fictionalized, is sickening in the callous way in which the new would-be leaders of China discarded the symbols of the great empire's historical past. What followed, as we now know, did not lead to the equality and liberalization of the people of China, but quite the opposite.

At any rate, the combination of the novel and my grandmother's letters have whetted my appetite for more about the historical events that changed China from an empire to a Communist state to the emerging economic giant it is now becoming.

Monday, January 29, 2007

I Quit Recovering Workaholics

Note that my subject line doesn't say I quit being a recovering workaholic. Nor does it say I quite being a workaholic!

Having been immersed in what I call the Girl Scout Badge Syndrome, simply defined as accumulating as many badges on one's sash as is more than humanly possibly, I've been wanting to call it quits for a number of years. And, yet, new ventures keep beckoning - including, this week, getting a new website so that I can develop online courses for at least some of what I teach. That's hours and hours of work right there since, naturally, it all has to be perfect!

With no therapy available in Sapporo, I decided to seek online support and joined an egroup list called Recovering Workaholics. What I discovered is, first, that even many of those people, or at least the ones who posted, didn't truly understand workaholism. They were talking, for example, about bosses who expected too much of them. My expectations of myself come entirely from within. I can't rest until the job is done, and I'm not satisfied until the job is done extremely well, all of which leaves me with no rest.

Then I made the realization that belong to yet another egroup list was a source of stress since I started saving messages in a folder - ones that I wanted to respond to but didn't have the time to (and know I'll never have the time to) and ones that I want to reread some day (not knowing when that some day would ever come). I began accumulating more and more, and the list ended up feeding my workaholism rather than even beginning to heal it.

So I ended up unsubscribing from the list. I left without even saying goodbye, which went against everything I believe about being polite, even though I hadn’t “bonded” with any of the people on the list, as of yet. Then I got even more drastic. I deleted the whole folder. I didn’t keep a single message or a single address. And since I’ve unsubscribed, I can’t access the messages or any of the addresses on the list. It was the best move I could have made towards recovery from workaholism – quitting the Recovering Workaholics list.

There's a whole lot of quitting yet to go. In the case of workaholics like myself, quitters can be winners!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

How tired is she?

• She's so tired that she couldn't figure out why her backpack was so heavy today, and then realized she hadn't taken out her books and papers from yesterday's classes so was carrying around two days' (and two schools') worth of materials.

• She's so tired that she forgot to give the school questionnaire to not one but five of her classes. (She did manage to give it to 3 classes and actually thinks the questionnaire is not of much use anyway because of poorly worded questions.)

• She's so tired that she came home after the final classes today at one of the universities (2 down and 1 to go) and slept for four hours!

• She's so tired she hasn't even managed to read her email, much less respond to it. There's something on the "body" email list about using treadmills while watching TV. Who has time to watch TV?

• She's so tired that all she could eat this evening was 3 tangerines and feels quite satisfied with that.

• She's so tired that she forgot to take out the garbage all week (and the truck for recycled garbage only comes once a week).

• She's so tired that she's staying home from chorus rehearsal (gasp!) and typing this instead, but since the concert's not until August, and she already knows some of the pieces by memory, she's not feeling too guilty.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Steal This TV!

Japan has the reputation, and I can vouch for the fact that it's an accurate one, of being a very safe country. Certainly there is crime in Japan. For example, the local news will often carry the story of a vending machine that was vandalized. And, yes, I'm being rather facetious because there are more serious crimes.

In fact, bicycles parked in front of my apartment have been stolen, not once but three times. What's baffling is not that they were locked at the time but that they were all second-hand, bordering on decrepit. The thieves actually did me a favor because the condition of the bicycles, well, at least two of them, was so bad that it was hard work riding them, so they seldom got used.

Which leads me to my current problem. I want to get rid of my old TV. In Japan, large appliances are hard to get rid of. Very few people buy used goods (although the numbers increased when the country began experiencing a recession), and there are no junkyards where one can go to throw something away.

What's more, one actually has to pay for the removal of furniture and large appliances. It's a complicated process of calling to arrange a pick-up date, getting a number, going to a convenience store to buy a sticker for 200 yen or so, placing the number on it, putting the sticker on the item to be discarded, and placing it in front of one's abode on one of the infrequent pick-up dates. A real hassle.

For TVs or computer monitors, most flatbed trucks that come around to collect old newspapers will pick them up - for free! Sometimes I'll hear one coming, announcing itself in a high-pitched voice through a loudspeaker, and I'll dash outside to wave it down, but it's always in the next block by the time I get to it.

So I hit upon a plan. I'd just put my TV outside in front of the apartment some evening, and surely it would be gone by morning. My plan didn't work as well as I had wanted. In fact, it didn't work at all. I picked an evening when it was dark and the pavement was dry. At first I put the TV (complete with manual and remote control in a plastic bag taped to the top) near the front stoop. Then I changed my mind and put it by the corner of the building, so it obviously looked discarded. If any neighbors were peeking from behind their curtains watching me do it, at least they didn't report me.

After depositing the TV outside, I kept checking to see if it was gone, but it stayed right where I left it. Then it started snowing, and the TV remained in place, gradually getting covered with snow. When I got up in the morning, sure enough, there was a mound of snow with the TV still under it. Somewhat chagrined, I put on a jacket, cap, and muffler to cover as much of my face as possible, and went outside to retrieve it.

Now the TV sits at the top of the stairs in my building just waiting to be stolen, but more likely until I catch one of the old newspaper trucks. Who knows how long it will remain sitting there? Probably longer than any of the bicycles I've had. Maybe in the spring I can use it as a flower stand.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

When I'm 64 . . .

I found out today that I am 64! 64.6 to be exact. At least according to I tried their questionnaire, which can take a good 20 minutes, in that one has to input information the number of mg. of various vitamins and minerals one is taking, the latest cholesterol count, and a great many other details about one's lifestyle and genetic background.

There are, naturally, some flaws in the questionnaire, and I think it's quite possible that I might be younger. For example, I put Zero for the amount of Strength Training I do per week, but there were no questions about how much snow one shovels on a weekly basis! Also, the results showed that my intake of calcium was low, which is off-base since I take a calcium supplement with every meal, but it's prescribed and I have no idea how many milligrams it contains.

All in all, though, it was a realistic look at the areas where I'm doing well when it comes to being good to my body, and the areas where I need to improve. Some of them would require minimal effort, such as flossing more often. (I'm not sure how much flossing will add to my lifespan, but this past year has given me some harsh reminders of the importance of taking good care of one's teeth.) The details in the report are as follows:

Factors that make my RealAge younger!
Limited or no secondhand smoke exposure
Parents relationship
Flexibility routine
Correct fruit servings
Healthy resting heart rate
No drinking and driving
Folic acid intake
Daily vitamin
Education level
Distances traveled
Good genes
Low red meat intake
Daily breakfast
Diverse diet
No ovarian cancer in family
Vitamin E intake
Vitamin C intake
Maintain total cholesterol level

Factors that make my RealAge older:
Social network and stress
Low unsaturated fat
Calcium intake
Workout schedule
Flossing habits
Potassium levels
Low grain intake
Low vegetable intake
Low omega-3 intake
Strength training level
Family history of breast cancer
Too much sleep
High BMI
Oral hygiene concerns
Medication use

What I may do is change a few areas that are lacking, such as including more whole vegetables in my diet - and flossing, of course. (I'm not, however, going to change the amount of sleep because I need my 9 hours!) Then I'll try the "test" again in a few months to see if I've gotten any younger.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Getting Skyped!

This evening I got my first "real" Skype call. I say "real" because at our Macintosh user's group meeting, I tried it out with one of the other members. Then, on New Year's morning, I got a call from a friend in France, but, again, it was basically to check the system to see if it would work.

This evening he called again. The conversation was short, but it was exciting to be talking with someone in France - for free! I was surprised at how clear his voice was. Also, since I have iSight set up, I think he could see me, though I couldn't see him. (Some day I expect my great nephews and nieces will be exclaiming, "You mean you couldn't see other people during calls when you were a kid?")

One thing I learned from the experience is NOT to use the "Skype Me" icon. I get calls from all over the place, all from men. Even if the icon is displaying that I'm online but "unavailable," I'll get calls. I've had a couple from China and one from Kenya. I was a bit tempted to respond to the later, asking him to please let immigrants from Somalia enter the country.

Anyway, I'm keeping my contact list to a minimum - friends only - and hope that I get Skyped often, especially from those in France or North America.

CA & Hassan in front of Bistro, September, 2003

CA & Hassan at Bistro, 2003

Snow is not News; No Snow Is News

Only in Hokkaido would the evening news have a story that there's no snow! One segment showed postponements of crosscountry skiing events. Note that they "postponed," not "cancelled," because there's a always a strong likelihood of snow in Hokkaido. In fact, a huge storm is supposed to blow in tomorrow.

Right now, though, there are actually wide areas on the sidewalks where the pavement is showing. Just to show how unusual this is, see the photo below of what the sidewalk from my apartment to the subway station looked like last year on this date. Is this a result of global warming or just quirky weather?

Sapporo Sidewalk in January

Friday, January 05, 2007

Wikigogy Is Here!

"What's Wikigogy?" you may ask. It's a Wiki for lesson plans for teachers of English as a second or foreign language. As a Wiki, it can be edited by anyone, as you may know, and the lesson plans are, of course, free.

So far, the areas covered are Speak, Listen, Read, Write, 4 skill, Grammar, and ESP [English for Special Purposes]. I found 15 lessons at Speak [sic] and 1 at Write. Although there are lessons plans at other sites, particularly Things for ESL/EFL Teachers from the The Internet TESL Journal for Teachers of English as a Second Language. It'll be interesting to see how big Wikigogy grows.

If you're interested, see Wikigogy.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

2007 - iYear

My iYear actually began in September, 2005, when I bought the iBook on which I'm typing this. Also, I started using, and to some extent mastering, iPhoto and iDVD during 2006.

However, 2007 is going to be the year when I truly begin using all the tools that come with Apple's iWork and iLife. (to be continued)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Shall we Dance? [sic]

Finally, thanks to a gift certificate from a friend, I had a chance to watch the American version of "Shall We Dance," albeit as a DVD on my tiny 17-inch flat screen. Having seen the Japanese version a number of times, I couldn't help comparing them.

The change I liked best was the development of the relationship between the husband and the wife (played by Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon, respectively, two of my favorite actors). In the Japanese version, there are far fewer scenes with the wife, and we know nothing of her life other than sitting at her home in the suburbs, patiently waiting for her husband to come home from work, or driving her daughter to school. For her to have a job, as the American wife does, would be out of the question. The result, though, is a somewhat colorless character who seems to have a far more boring life than her accountant husband. In fact, it’s a wonder that she isn’t the one who ends up taking dance lessons.

On the contrary, we see a great deal more of the work place and its dynamics in the Japanese version, very natural in its depiction of the dominance of the office, as opposed to the home, in a Japanese "salaryman's" life. In fact, when the middle-aged professional, Sugimoto, played with marvelous understatement by Koji Yakusho, doesn't socialize with his co-workers after hours, he's viewed by them as odd for wanting to go home. In the American version, how mundane the lawyer, John Clark, finds his work to be is touched on, mainly through a voice-over (which I generally find to be a weak substitute for action), and not nearly as convincing.

The biggest loss in the absence of work place scenes in the American version is that there's no build-up for the Stanley Tucci character, Link Peterson, a colleague of John’s, and when he is "discovered" at the dance studio, at first we have no idea who this guy is and why he is so embarrassed to be found out. I also didn’t get the bit about his faked interest in sports, so I’ll have to see if that’s clearer in my second or third viewing. I have to say, though, that I loved the wig, and reviewer Rebecca Murray claims that “Stanley Tucci is the reason to see ‘Shall We Dance?’.”

Gradually, the camaraderie that develops between the two men in both movies is convincing as one of the reasons for the main character to continue dancing, even when his invitation to dinner is rejected by the lovely, young dance teacher, whose standing poignantly at the window of the studio was what attracted him to the lessons in the first place.

I was a bit put off by the slapstick in both versions. The effects could have been just as comical without the viewers being beaten over the head with a “This bit is really funny” dialogue or action. It ends up turning many of the characters, who have a potential for full development, into caricatures.

The older dance teacher, Tamako Tamura (played by Reiko Kusamura, who happens to be the same age as I am), so dignified and gracious in the Japanese version, becomes Miss Mitzi (played by Anita Gillette), the owner of a less-than-posh dance studio, in the American version, and a lush who sneaks nips from a bottle with no apparent reason than for a cheap laugh, except that it isn’t funny.

The female dance partner in the final competition, Japanese Toyoko (played by Eriko Watanabe) and American Bobbi (whom one critic described as “Lisa Ann Walter doing Bette Midler”), is boisterous and overdrawn in both versions, making it difficult to have sympathy for her when she collapses from the fatigue of holding down daytime jobs with long hours while spending evenings at the dance studio.

There’s a poignancy in true comedy, seen best in both versions at the climactic scene where, during the two-step – well, anyone who’s seen the movie or perhaps is even familiar with it knows very well what happens.

As for dialogue, why do Americans have to talk so much? Maybe I’ve lived in Japan too long, or gotten too used to Japanese drama with its long pauses and the camera dwelling on the somewhat expressionless faces, a compliment to the audience in that it suggests they can fill in for themselves what is taking place in the character’s mind. In one scene in particular, Clark ends up talking to himself about whether he should or shouldn’t return to the dance studio; the extra verbiage really isn’t necessary. The viewers can figure out what is dilemma is without him having to spell it out for them, and I found the self-talk distracting. The only character with very little dialogue is the assistant dance instructor, Paulina (played by Jennifer Lopez), and her body language is certainly enough to convey the basics of the relationship between her and John Clark.

My biggest complaint, however, is how quickly the American lawyer became adept at ballroom dancing. I realize that, in a 2-hour movie, it’s not possible to show all the grueling hours that it takes to learn a new skill. Having taken ballroom dance lessons once a week for 2 years, though, I can vouch for the fact that a novice doesn’t learn all the facets of the art – one that involves the whole body, including the direction of the eyes – in a few months. For me, more time on the lessons and all the aspects of learning the stance, the hip movements, the footwork, and all that is essential to expertise in ballroom dancing, would have been more rewarding and authentic. The American version simply makes it look much too easy!

I was also disappointed in the final scene, a farewell party for the young dance teacher, which doesn’t have the drama of the Japanese version with the spotlight going around the crowd as Mai (played by Tamiyo Kusakari), the dance teacher, looks for Sugimoto. Although a bit melodramatic, the suspense of whether he’ll show up or not is built up, and one breathes a sigh of relief when he dashes in, briefcase in hand, at the last minute.

In the American version, it is as though everyone was expecting Clark to show up, and, when he does, lo and behold, he has on both a tux and his dance shoes. It must have been quite a stretch for the writers to figure out a way of getting him from riding the El home to getting dressed properly, showing up at his wife’s store with a rose for her, and then making it to the party in time. It’s quite a stretch for the viewers as well.

In both versions, the young dance instructor is convincingly icy, when faced with a distasteful job – attempting to turn ugly ducklings into swans on the dance floor – and passionate, when caught up in dancing by herself or with a partner with whom she can float. I especially enjoy the instructions given by Paulina in the American version about how to do the rumba, which helped me understand the heart of the dance.

The rumba is the vertical expression of a horizontal wish. You have to hold her, like the skin on her thigh is your reason for living. Let her go, like your heart's being ripped from your chest. Throw her back, like you're going to have your way with her right here on the dance floor. And then finish, like she's ruined you for life.

There’s another in which she explains the man’s role in the waltz of acting as a frame for his partner, and I’m still searching for the full quote.

One other disappointment with the American version, though, is that it doesn’t fully explain what happened at the Blackpool Competition and what a crushing blow it was to both her and her career. (Granted that the Japanese version doesn’t handle this as adeptly as it might, since the entire incident is revealed mainly through a letter to Sugiyama at the end and a voiceover.) Also, it’s never quite clear what happened between Paulina and her former dance partner. I would love to see a 3rd version of “Shall We Dance?” in either language with this particular part of the story more fully developed.

What's lacking the most in the American version is, simply, dancing! From the title, I expected much more, not only for my own pleasure, but also because what must have been hours of dance lessons for Gere and Lopez ended up in a few, choppy unsatisfactory scenes.

I have to say that I liked the epilogue at the end of the American version, especially knowing that the klutzy, fat character (in a rather sullen portrayal by Omar Benson Miller) succeeds in getting engaged and married as a result of his dance lessons. OK, so I’m a romantic at heart. One never knows. Maybe I’ll be at an American wedding reception or my high school reunion or some other occasion where there’s dancing, and some fine gentleman will step up to me asking, “Shall we dance?”, and I’ll whirl away in his arms to a lifetime of dancing. Of course, if my partner looks anything like Richard Gere, all the better!

See an excellent review by Kuma, the Nihon Review, comparing the two versions at:

Other reviews worth reading can be found at:
Japanese (1996) version:
American (2004) version:

Monday, January 01, 2007

Time's Person of the Year Is . . .

YOU! And me. If you write a blog, you're a person of the year. If you've ever uploaded a video to YouTube or some music to Podcast, you're a person of the year. If you've ever posted a photo on Flickr, you're a person of the year. (I've done all of the above, so I guess that makes me the person of the year.)

Another place to check out is or the Japanese version that one of my Advanced Writing students is doing her paper on, Mixi.

Better, still, if you've contributed anything to Wikipedia, you are truly a person of the year. In fact, if you've even looked for any information on Wikipedia, that qualifies. And you're reading this blog, so that certainly makes you "with it"!

I thought Time magazine's choice was brilliant. This past year is when the media truly started belonging to the people. It's not that professional coverage and opinions no longer count, but a 15-year-old might write a movie review or a political commentary that is every bit as worth reading. And I'd much rather hear and see what's happening in Iraq from those in the field than from any so-called official news source.

Power to the People is here!