Saturday, 29 January 2011

How to get on the JET Programme Part 2 - The Interview

I promised a second part to my primer for hopeful JET applicants. For those of you who got letters for interviews, congratulations! Now it's time to prove yourself.

There isn't too much I can say on the interview - probably everyone who's applying for JET will have been interviewed for something before. The same rules apply - dress smartly, be polite and show what you're made of.

The interview day is in two stages. After arriving and sitting around, possibly being able to watch the most recent JET promotional video, you'll be asked to sit a short test. For anyone who's done the Cambridge CELTA and remembers the pre-course tasks, it's a bit like that, but simpler. It takes 5-10 minutes. You don't have to know any complicated grammar, but you do have to correct a short piece of writing. It also tests things like vocabulary, asking you to match a word with one of three/four synonyms. The test isn't the kind of thing you can prepare for, since you don't know exactly what will come up, but it's not something to worry about. I know I got at least one thing wrong from my test, and I made it through.

The most important part of the day is the actual interview. It is usually conducted by one native English speaker and one Japanese person. The interview is designed to find out if you are up to being a teacher and working with students, and, perhaps more importantly, whether you will be able to live in a foreign country for an extended period of time.

There are no right answers to the questions they will ask, but here are my hot tips:
On education:
-stress the importance of communication skills in language learning, particularly oral communication
-show due deference to the admittedly broken approach to teaching in Japan - show you're willing to work with the system to improve things
-remember you will be team teaching, so stress your willingness to cooperate with experience Japanese teachers of English
-have some ideas for classroom activities you'd like to try - games and tasks with a focus on communication and learning

On living abroad:
-they will ask at least one question about how you think you will get on in a foreign country
-stress any prior experience of travel or living abroad you have
-be prepared for apparently irrelevant questions - I got "What do you eat?" from the Japanese guy at my interview (possibly poor English on his part) and I was like "What has that got to do with anything?" and spluttered nonsense until I realised I was being asked if I'd be able to get by on Japanese food, albeit in a retarded way
-try to have some knowledge of Japan's socio-economic situation/current political climate. I wasn't asked what I knew about Japan, but I'm aware of others who have. Check out the English websites of Asahi Shimbun, Japan Times or Daily Yomiura to get a feel for things
-of course, show your willingness, nay - eagerness to learn the Japanese language. You've already learned hiragana, you say, and can't wait to learn katakana and some kanji.

If you keep these things in mind it should stand you in good stead.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Night Person

Night Person is a 'perk' in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas that you can take on levelling up, giving you +2 to both Intelligence and Perception. I bring it up because I think I have this in real life. My brain always works better at night. I've always done my best work in the evenings, from writing short stories in high school to essays at university. During the day I can't get anything done.

A few days ago I was trying to get over my late nights and late mornings by going to bed a little after ten. I was feeling fairly tired so I thought I might be fine. Unfortunately, I woke several times during the night, didn't sleep well at all and still ended up waking at 10.30am. Epic fail.

I spent much of yesterday working on something for a writing competition. I had a lot of difficulty with it because the word limit is 250 words. I redrafted several times and still didn't get anywhere. As soon as I lay down to sleep, however, at the quasi-realistic time of 1.30am, my mind was abuzz with ideas for it. I couldn't sleep knowing that these ideas might be gone in the morning, so I had to jot them down in my notebook, but that wasn't enough to settle my mind so I had to watch TV for an hour to calm myself down.

Anyway, back to it.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

New Vague Arse

The other day I finished what has been my biggest distraction from productivity over the last couple of weeks, namely Fallout: New Vegas. On the Playstation 3. It's been a long time (a very very long time) since a game has managed to so wholly suck me in and lose all concept of the passage of real world time. It didn't seem to matter that there were countless bugs in the game or that it crashed rather a lot. It's the best western RPG since Planescape: Torment. And that's saying something.

It kind of messed up my sleep schedule, though, as now I can't seem to get to sleep before 3am and can't get up before noon. But now it's over. New Vegas has held onto its independence. I can go back to my regular, less pronounced level of unproductiveness.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Super Dry JPN Cult

I've started seeing people wearing Super Dry JPN coats everywhere. They're all navy blue and seem to have replaced North Face as the jacket of choice among today's casual jacket wearer.

It's not just jackets, though. There are t-shirts and hoodies with the names of Japanese cities emblazoned on the front, along with some nonsensical kanji. I wondered if the Super Dry brand was related to Asahi Super Dry, one of the most ubiquitous and popular Japanese lagers, but apparently they're made by Supergroup, which is a British company. Should've guessed from the nonsensical kanji. Probably reads to a Japanese (or indeed a Chinese) person like some of my Japanese clothing does to us. Example:

Whenever I see a t-shirt that says "Osaka" or "Okayama" I want to shout, "You haven't even BEEN there! You don't know!"

Tuesday, 18 January 2011


I got stood up today.

I was supposed to be teaching my Japanese guy to help him prepare for some job interviews he'll be having soon. We had a lesson yesterday and were supposed to have one today at 5.30, then he changed it to 5 during yesterday's lesson.

I got to Starbucks just before 5, got a drink and waited. I listened to Adam and Joe interviewing Roger Moore. Sir Roger Moore. 5.05 and he wasn't there. 5.15 similarly. 5.20 I thought maybe he'd forgotten he'd changed the time to 5. So I sat tight and thought he might roll in some time around or after 5.30. Waited and hoped.

I don't like situations where I'm meant to be annoyed with people in real life. I love getting annoyed at things I have no power to change. But I hate confrontation and this was starting to turn into a real cause for it. He'd cancelled several lessons last minute recently and now he hadn't shown up. I had/have every right to be annoyed about it. But I'm always making excuses for other people in these situations. I give myself reasons why other people's shocking behaviour is forgivable. He didn't have my mobile number, for instance. He might have tried to email me.

I had his number, however. I couldn't manage an angry text message. The best I could manage was, "What happened?"


If SOMEBODY SET US UP THE BOMB then maybe that counts as mitigating circumstances.

As it transpired, and as I discovered when I finally left and got the bus home at 5.50, he had emailed me. But at 4.45, long after I'd already got a bus into town. He says some retired people from his company came round and he had to blah blah blah. I know the Japanese loyalty is meant to be to the company, but when you've got an appointment with someone fifteen minutes later you should have the decency to say, "I'm sorry, I can't lick corporate arse today, I have a prior engagement."

He's just sent an email while I've been typing here, promising that it will never happen again. I bloody well hope not.

Rage blackout.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Money money money

A long-awaited day has come. My Japanese pension refund notification arrived today. Soon they should be paying the money into my account. Only took four or five months.

It's an awful lot of money (well, in relative terms). The problem I have is that I can't really do anything with it. I'm all about prudent investment, when I'm not busy buying computer games and faster computers to run them on. This amount, though allowing me to splurge if I so desired, isn't enough to do anything really cool. I can't buy a house with it. If I had a job I suppose it would be enough to pay a deposit on a cheap flat and get a mortgage, but I don't have a real job. A car might be fun, but I'm still learning how to drive and cars are the worst investments ever because they depreciate faster than anything. Also, the tax and insurance would drain me down to nothing in short order.

I've pondered the idea of just taking the money and using it to move into a flat and live off for ten months or whatever, and in that time become rich and successful. Could happen.

In the meantime, I'm dancing with Liza.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

We can has panda nao?

Edinburgh zoo is getting pandas!

I think the staff at the zoo will be rubbing their hands with glee now that the deal has been finalised. They sent their polar bear (the only one in the UK) up north to give it a bigger enclosure and I get the impression the zoo has been a bit rubbish in recent years. When I was doing the CELTA, Maria in my group used the zoo's tourist information leaflet as her authentic material, and the place seems to have a lot less to it than it did when I used to go as a child. Two pandas ought to bring in the crowds. Everybody loves pandas.

I'm taking it as a sign that I shouldn't go back to Asia. Or that I don't need to. I keep thinking about how easy it would be to just get a teaching job in Japan (at least, it seems pretty easy) and then I could just lounge around in Japan for another few years. But no, we're getting pandas. It is not necessary to go back.

I saw pandas once in a zoo/adventure theme park in Wakayama Prefecture. It was expensive to get there on the train (it was nestled in the deep south of the prefecture), expensive to get into the park, and then the food on offer was mostly awful. The park was okay. We rode about in a panda car (that is, a car shaped like a panda) and fed giraffes by hand. Also, there were baby pandas, which are the best kind of panda.

We're getting a breeding pair, though, so it's possible that in time, with patience and panda porn, we'll have our own baby pandas.
Though all panda babies born to couples abroad remain property of the Communist Party of China, Beijing.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Writing Habit

I had an awful time of it over the last two days, trying to put together a short story to submit for my creative writing course's second assignment. I'd had an idea for a while, but when it came down to it, I just wasn't that interested in putting it together. It's one of the weird things about doing this course - I'm supposed to want to write, but it makes you write particular things in a particular way at particular times. Creativity doesn't work like that.

Anyway, I got through it somehow. It's not very good, certainly not my best work. Towards the end I started to think parts of it might not be that bad. I don't think the story worked within the confines of the word limit, not that I was keen to have to write any more. I was working at it until half an hour before midnight, what I considered to be the deadline. You know, before the date changed.

Anyway, it got me to thinking. If I want to be serious about the whole smelly writing lark, I need to make it part of my life. It can't just be a thing I begrudgingly do when an assignment I don't like comes round.

So here was my thought: write something every day. And that could be just be a blog post, like this, or it could be part of something more substantial. And if I can't get to a computer or wherever I'm writing, it can be something like a haiku.

It's time to put my pen where my mouth is. And start chewing.

The Emily Times

Emily came! And went. Cry.
It seemed like a whirlwind visit. It was like no sooner had she arrived and I was sleeping on a rapidly deflating mattress on the floor, than she was leaving again and I was back in my own bed.
The weather during her trip was pretty depressingly awful. Not that it was particularly rainy or even snowy, but it was dull, grey, cloudy and oh! so very cold. Blue skies in winter can be quite pretty here:
Actually that's an evening shot. We can look nice in the day, too.

Still, Emily is not one to let the weather put a dampener on her ill-warranted irrational exuberance. After subjecting her to bowling and pizza with my friends on her first evening, we hit the town on the second day.

We spent most of our time in Edinburgh's Old Town, the originally-titled oldest part of the city. After wandering by the castle (see top of page) and through a shop that promised more armour than it delivered, we went to the Camera Obscura. A Camera Obscura is a contraption that projects a live image of a location via a series of wicked things like mirrors. You go into a darkened room and a guide rotates the image around the city and 'picks up' people on the image with pieces of card. I remember going once when I was younger, though I remember the image being clearer then, it being summer and the light being brighter. After the display on the top floor we made our way down through the different levels of the building which each housed a set of displays and things you could play with, all connected with optical illusions and the like. Here is a ladder to Australia:
Of course, any ladder going to Australia would have to pass through the molten layers of the Earth, so I have to assume this display is an attempt to murder unwitting Australian tourists passing through the museum.
Other highlights included a mirror maze and a gangway that has rotating lights around it that make you want to vomit.
The place is a bit like the Dublin Wax Museum PLUS that I visited last year, with the difference being that the Camera Obscura isn't shit. Hooray for that.

After grabbing lunch/dinner at a bar on Potter Row (after giving up on the excessively busy Elephant House, famous for being the place where J.K. Rowling apparently wrote some of the early Harry Potter stuff) we ventured out to investigate taking part in the Torchlight Procession. As far as I can tell, this event is part of an attempt for the City of Edinburgh to stretch its money-spinning Hogmanay celebrations beyond the night of the 31st. Thousands of people buy overpriced torches (for charity, in fairness) which are later lit, then everyone walks through town, carrying their flaming brands, like a rather indifferent lynch mob. Emily and I thought we were late to the party, but after getting our torches, which were a roll of coarse fabric coated in wax, we found that we were quite near the front of the procession. A voice over a PA system told us at various intervals, as we were waiting to be lit up and allowed to move off, that there were 10,000, 15,000 then 20,000 of us in total. A record-breaking year. Somewhere around 6.20, the Up Helly Aa vikings from Shetland started the show and the gift of fire spread like the proverbial throughout the waiting crowd.

Fire starts to arrive:
I am given a light by this kind lady:
The Savages song from Pocahontas:
A while after being lit up, with the wax dripping down our sticks and only a bit of card to protect our hands, we were permitted to proceed. We walked down from St Giles Cathedral and round The Mound, by the National Galleries, then right onto Princes Street and up to Calton Hill. Once there, we waited a while for some of the thousands of people behind us to catch up (though not all made it) and then we were treated to a Viking ship burning

and some fireworks
And then we all headed home, covered in wax. I have a pair of gloves that are probably ruined now because wax leaked through the gap between the guard and the torch and soaked its way right through the fabric. I didn't notice at first, except that there was a pleasant warming sensation in my left hand.

The following day was New Year's Eve, or Hogmanay as we say in Scotland. I can never be bothered doing anything for New Year, but I did book something for the daytime. Panto! It's a British institution. Pantomime is a stage performance of a traditional, well-known story but usually with a few modern elements and cultural references added. Often the cultural references are very local and specific. Each pantomime takes up residence in a particular theatre between December and January, and features one or two celebrities, former celebrities or other washed-up sorts. Many theatres seem to have exclusive deals with particular washed-up stars to do their pantomime every year, whatever it may be. Allan Stewart, Scottish comedian, has been playing the pantomime dame (read: transvestite) at the King's Theatre in Edinburgh for so many years that I doubt anyone can remember how he looks as a man. This year he was back as the mother of the eponymous Jack in this:
I was a little worried that I'd grown too jaded to appreciate this kind of family-oriented entertainment, but I really did enjoy it. The story wasn't as well constructed as it could have been, but it was fun and even Emily could appreciate a good number of the cultural references, having been subjected to many of the trashier elements of British culture by myself.

On New Year's Day I was dead to the world, having burned out from being sick with fluey coldishness and lack of lying around doing nothing. So my parents took Emily on a merry jaunt somewhere. I hope she didn't feel intimidated by them.

The next day we all went to Stirling to visit the castle there. It was ####ing freeeeezing, and the skies were grey and depressing. It's probably a nice place to visit in summer but gawd it was gloomy. Then we went to the Wallace monument, which is dedicated to Scottish heroism and patriotism as personified by psychotic Australian actor/director Mel Gibson.

That evening we made a quick decision to do one of the many ghost tours offered by companies in the city centre. We phoned up to make sure there would be space, and were told that only the 10pm tour has spaces free. Of course, tramping around the spooky Old Town of Edinburgh at night is an opportunity any tourist would jump at, so we made our way into the city. I have to say I was a little disappointed by the tour. The speaker had a tendency towards the melodramatic, and while he had the moody tone of intrigue school of storytelling down pat, I thought he could have used more variation in his style. I also think that when the guides act more normally, and engage with the audience in a light-hearted way, it helps to bring them in more and accept more willingly the dramatic, spooky parts of the stories. When we made it to the underground vaults - lost and buried between the late 19th century and 1985 - we were finally told that Mercat Tours (the company organising our tour) didn't go in for gimmicks like people jumping out at you in costumes, so anything you saw or heard that you couldn't explain was potentially a spirit of some kind. Personally I thought the tour could use a gimmick or two. The kind of stories he told of the various criminals, witches, tortures and executions were very familiar to me - I've heard them all on tours before. A good scare from a guy wearing a rubber mask would have livened up the whole thing, in my opinion. I'm not sure if Emily was of a similar opinion.

The next day, after a rather long lie following our late night ghost walk, we decided to visit Holyrood Palace, official Edinburgh residence of the Queen and site of a fair bit of Scottish royal history. With our ticket we got an audio tour guide including a welcome by Prince Charles. I actually hadn't known until a few days before that the palace was a tourist attraction. I didn't know you could go inside, even though one of my friends used to work in the cafe there. One thing that struck me about the interior of the palace was that there were no corridors with rooms leading off them; each room followed the next so that to walk all the way around the house, you had to go through the various bed chambers and waiting rooms.

Part of the audio tour deals with the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, and in particular the murder by her second husband of her Italian secretary. We had been informed, by my friend who worked at the palace, that the site of the murder had a patch of red on the floorboards. She said it was meant to suggest that the bloodstain of five hundred years ago still remained, but was actually the result of some enthusiastic polishing from the cleaning ladies who worked there, who get a kick out of tricking people into thinking it's real.

After the palace, which was a nice place to get in out of the cold, we had cheap dinner at a scummy pub called Shakespeare's (presumably because of its proximity to several theatres) then went to see an advanced screening of The King's Speech. We both really enjoyed it. I noted again how the King had to pass through every other room in his palace to get to where he was going. Must be a thing with British palaces.

The following day was Emily's last day in Edinburgh, so we went, at last, to Edinburgh Castle. Once again the weather was freezing, so we spent most of the time diving in and out of the various buildings. I'm not convinced the experience is worth the £15 it costs to get in, but it is at least nice to have a commanding view of the city. It's probably nicer in summer, as with most things. After tourist shopping and then normal shopping, we went for dinner at an Indian restaurant and had curry foods, which was important for us because we used to go for a curry together every week in Japan. I think Emily's been kind of deprived since I left.

Emily left in the middle of the night and I moped about wondering where all the time had gone, all too aware that I had a creative writing submission to make, for which I had zero motivation.
Emily made it home safely, however. Her home was guarded by deer in her absence. Also, bears.